Politico: Ukrainian Officials Secretly Targeted Trump, Helped Clinton, During Election

BY WARNER TODD HUSTON

Donald Trump wasn’t the only presidential candidate whose campaign was boosted by officials of a former Soviet bloc country.

Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office. They also disseminated documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption and suggested they were investigating the matter, only to back away after the election. And they helped Clinton’s allies research damaging information on Trump and his advisers, a Politico investigation found.

A Ukrainian-American operative who was consulting for the Democratic National Committee met with top officials in the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington in an effort to expose ties between Trump, top campaign aide Paul Manafort and Russia, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.

The Ukrainian efforts had an impact in the race, helping to force Manafort’s resignation and advancing the narrative that Trump’s campaign was deeply connected to Ukraine’s foe to the east, Russia. But they were far less concerted or centrally directed than Russia’s alleged hacking and dissemination of Democratic emails.

Russia’s effort was personally directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, involved the country’s military and foreign intelligence services, according to U.S. intelligence officials. They reportedly briefed Trump last week on the possibility that Russian operatives might have compromising information on the president-elect. And at a Senate hearing last week on the hacking, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said “I don’t think we’ve ever encountered a more aggressive or direct campaign to interfere in our election process than we’ve seen in this case.”

There’s little evidence of such a top-down effort by Ukraine. Longtime observers suggest that the rampant corruption, factionalism and economic struggles plaguing the country — not to mention its ongoing strife with Russia — would render it unable to pull off an ambitious covert interference campaign in another country’s election. And President Petro Poroshenko’s administration, along with the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, insists that Ukraine stayed neutral in the race.

Yet Politico’s investigation found evidence of Ukrainian government involvement in the race that appears to strain diplomatic protocol dictating that governments refrain from engaging in one another’s elections.

Russia’s meddling has sparked outrage from the American body politic. The U.S. intelligence community undertook the rare move of publicizing its findings on the matter, and President Barack Obama took several steps to officially retaliate, while members of Congress continue pushing for more investigations into the hacking and a harder line against Russia, which was already viewed in Washington as America’s leading foreign adversary.

Ukraine, on the other hand, has traditionally enjoyed strong relations with U.S. administrations. Its officials worry that could change under Trump, whose team has privately expressed sentiments ranging from ambivalence to deep skepticism about Poroshenko’s regime, while sounding unusually friendly notes about Putin’s regime.

Poroshenko is scrambling to alter that dynamic, recently signing a $50,000-a-month contract with a well-connected GOP-linked Washington lobbying firm to set up meetings with U.S. government officials “to strengthen U.S.-Ukrainian relations.”

Revelations about Ukraine’s anti-Trump efforts could further set back those efforts.

“Things seem to be going from bad to worse for Ukraine,” said David A. Merkel, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who helped oversee U.S. relations with Russia and Ukraine while working in George W. Bush’s State Department and National Security Council.

Merkel, who has served as an election observer in Ukrainian presidential elections dating back to 1993, noted there’s some irony in Ukraine and Russia taking opposite sides in the 2016 presidential race, given that past Ukrainian elections were widely viewed in Washington’s foreign policy community as proxy wars between the U.S. and Russia.

“Now, it seems that a U.S. election may have been seen as a surrogate battle by those in Kiev and Moscow,” Merkel said.

•••

The Ukrainian antipathy for Trump’s team — and alignment with Clinton’s — can be traced back to late 2013. That’s when the country’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, whom Manafort had been advising, abruptly backed out of a European Union pact linked to anti-corruption reforms. Instead, Yanukovych entered into a multibillion-dollar bailout agreement with Russia, sparking protests across Ukraine and prompting Yanukovych to flee the country to Russia under Putin’s protection.

In the ensuing crisis, Russian troops moved into the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, and Manafort dropped off the radar.

Manafort’s work for Yanukovych caught the attention of a veteran Democratic operative named Alexandra Chalupa, who had worked in the White House Office of Public Liaison during the Clinton administration. Chalupa went on to work as a staffer, then as a consultant, for Democratic National Committee. The DNC paid her $412,000 from 2004 to June 2016, according to Federal Election Commission records, though she also was paid by other clients during that time, including Democratic campaigns and the DNC’s arm for engaging expatriate Democrats around the world.

A daughter of Ukrainian immigrants who maintains strong ties to the Ukrainian-American diaspora and the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, Chalupa, a lawyer by training, in 2014 was doing pro bono work for another client interested in the Ukrainian crisis and began researching Manafort’s role in Yanukovych’s rise, as well as his ties to the pro-Russian oligarchs who funded Yanukovych’s political party.

In an interview this month, Chalupa told Politico she had developed a network of sources in Kiev and Washington, including investigative journalists, government officials and private intelligence operatives. While her consulting work at the DNC this past election cycle centered on mobilizing ethnic communities — including Ukrainian-Americans — she said that, when Trump’s unlikely presidential campaign began surging in late 2015, she began focusing more on the research, and expanded it to include Trump’s ties to Russia, as well.

She occasionally shared her findings with officials from the DNC and Clinton’s campaign, Chalupa said. In January 2016 — months before Manafort had taken any role in Trump’s campaign — Chalupa told a senior DNC official that, when it came to Trump’s campaign, “I felt there was a Russia connection,” Chalupa recalled. “And that, if there was, that we can expect Paul Manafort to be involved in this election,” said Chalupa, who at the time also was warning leaders in the Ukrainian-American community that Manafort was “Putin’s political brain for manipulating U.S. foreign policy and elections.”

She said she shared her concern with Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., Valeriy Chaly, and one of his top aides, Oksana Shulyar, during a March 2016 meeting at the Ukrainian Embassy. According to someone briefed on the meeting, Chaly said that Manafort was very much on his radar, but that he wasn’t particularly concerned about the operative’s ties to Trump since he didn’t believe Trump stood much of a chance of winning the GOP nomination, let alone the presidency.

That was not an uncommon view at the time, and, perhaps as a result, Trump’s ties to Russia — let alone Manafort’s — were not the subject of much attention.
That all started to change just four days after Chalupa’s meeting at the embassy, when it was reported that Trump had in fact hired Manafort, suggesting that Chalupa may have been on to something. She quickly found herself in high demand. The day after Manafort’s hiring was revealed, she briefed the DNC’s communications staff on Manafort, Trump and their ties to Russia, according to an operative familiar with the situation.

A former DNC staffer described the exchange as an “informal conversation,” saying “‘briefing’ makes it sound way too formal,” and adding, “We were not directing or driving her work on this.” Yet, the former DNC staffer and the operative familiar with the situation agreed that with the DNC’s encouragement, Chalupa asked embassy staff to try to arrange an interview in which Poroshenko might discuss Manafort’s ties to Yanukovych.

While the embassy declined that request, officials there became “helpful” in Chalupa’s efforts, she said, explaining that she traded information and leads with them. “If I asked a question, they would provide guidance, or if there was someone I needed to follow up with.” But she stressed, “There were no documents given, nothing like that.”

Chalupa said the embassy also worked directly with reporters researching Trump, Manafort and Russia to point them in the right directions. She added, though, “they were being very protective and not speaking to the press as much as they should have. I think they were being careful because their situation was that they had to be very, very careful because they could not pick sides. It’s a political issue, and they didn’t want to get involved politically because they couldn’t.”

Shulyar vehemently denied working with reporters or with Chalupa on anything related to Trump or Manafort, explaining “we were stormed by many reporters to comment on this subject, but our clear and adamant position was not to give any comment [and] not to interfere into the campaign affairs.”

Both Shulyar and Chalupa said the purpose of their initial meeting was to organize a June reception at the embassy to promote Ukraine. According to the embassy’s website, the event highlighted female Ukrainian leaders, featuring speeches by Ukrainian parliamentarian Hanna Hopko, who discussed “Ukraine’s fight against the Russian aggression in Donbas,” and longtime Hillary Clinton confidante Melanne Verveer, who worked for Clinton in the State Department and was a vocal surrogate during the presidential campaign.

Shulyar said her work with Chalupa “didn’t involve the campaign,” and she specifically stressed that “We have never worked to research and disseminate damaging information about Donald Trump and Paul Manafort.”

But Andrii Telizhenko, who worked as a political officer in the Ukrainian Embassy under Shulyar, said she instructed him to help Chalupa research connections between Trump, Manafort and Russia. “Oksana said that if I had any information, or knew other people who did, then I should contact Chalupa,” recalled Telizhenko, who is now a political consultant in Kiev. “They were coordinating an investigation with the Hillary team on Paul Manafort with Alexandra Chalupa,” he said, adding “Oksana was keeping it all quiet,” but “the embassy worked very closely with” Chalupa.

In fact, sources familiar with the effort say that Shulyar specifically called Telizhenko into a meeting with Chalupa to provide an update on an American media outlet’s ongoing investigation into Manafort.

Telizhenko recalled that Chalupa told him and Shulyar that, “If we can get enough information on Paul [Manafort] or Trump’s involvement with Russia, she can get a hearing in Congress by September.”

Chalupa confirmed that, a week after Manafort’s hiring was announced, she discussed the possibility of a congressional investigation with a foreign policy legislative assistant in the office of Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), who co-chairs the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus. But, Chalupa said, “It didn’t go anywhere.”

Asked about the effort, the Kaptur legislative assistant called it a “touchy subject” in an internal email to colleagues that was accidentally forwarded to Politico.

Kaptur’s office later emailed an official statement explaining that the lawmaker is backing a bill to create an independent commission to investigate “possible outside interference in our elections.” The office added “at this time, the evidence related to this matter points to Russia, but Congresswoman Kaptur is concerned with any evidence of foreign entities interfering in our elections.”

•••

Almost as quickly as Chalupa’s efforts attracted the attention of the Ukrainian Embassy and Democrats, she also found herself the subject of some unwanted attention from overseas.

Within a few weeks of her initial meeting at the embassy with Shulyar and Chaly, Chalupa on April 20 received the first of what became a series of messages from the administrators of her private Yahoo email account, warning her that “state-sponsored actors” were trying to hack into her emails.

She kept up her crusade, appearing on a panel a week after the initial hacking message to discuss her research on Manafort with a group of Ukrainian investigative journalists gathered at the Library of Congress for a program sponsored by a U.S. congressional agency called the Open World Leadership Center.

Center spokeswoman Maura Shelden stressed that her group is nonpartisan and ensures “that our delegations hear from both sides of the aisle, receiving bipartisan information.” She said the Ukrainian journalists in subsequent days met with Republican officials in North Carolina and elsewhere. And she said that, before the Library of Congress event, “Open World’s program manager for Ukraine did contact Chalupa to advise her that Open World is a nonpartisan agency of the Congress.”

Chalupa, though, indicated in an email that was later hacked and released by WikiLeaks that the Open World Leadership Center “put me on the program to speak specifically about Paul Manafort.”

In the email, which was sent in early May to then-DNC communications director Luis Miranda, Chalupa noted that she had extended an invitation to the Library of Congress forum to veteran Washington investigative reporter Michael Isikoff. Two days before the event, he had published a story for Yahoo News revealing the unraveling of a $26 million deal between Manafort and a Russian oligarch related to a telecommunications venture in Ukraine. And Chalupa wrote in the email she’d been “working with for the past few weeks” with Isikoff “and connected him to the Ukrainians” at the event.

Isikoff, who accompanied Chalupa to a reception at the Ukrainian Embassy immediately after the Library of Congress event, declined to comment.

Chalupa further indicated in her hacked May email to the DNC that she had additional sensitive information about Manafort that she intended to share “offline” with Miranda and DNC research director Lauren Dillon, including “a big Trump component you and Lauren need to be aware of that will hit in next few weeks and something I’m working on you should be aware of.” Explaining that she didn’t feel comfortable sharing the intel over email, Chalupa attached a screenshot of a warning from Yahoo administrators about “state-sponsored” hacking on her account, explaining, “Since I started digging into Manafort these messages have been a daily occurrence on my yahoo account despite changing my password often.”

Dillon and Miranda declined to comment.

A DNC official stressed that Chalupa was a consultant paid to do outreach for the party’s political department, not a researcher. She undertook her investigations into Trump, Manafort and Russia on her own, and the party did not incorporate her findings in its dossiers on the subjects, the official said, stressing that the DNC had been building robust research books on Trump and his ties to Russia long before Chalupa began sounding alarms.

Nonetheless, Chalupa’s hacked email reportedly escalated concerns among top party officials, hardening their conclusion that Russia likely was behind the cyber intrusions with which the party was only then beginning to grapple.

Chalupa left the DNC after the Democratic convention in late July to focus fulltime on her research into Manafort, Trump and Russia. She said she provided off-the-record information and guidance to “a lot of journalists” working on stories related to Manafort and Trump’s Russia connections, despite what she described as escalating harassment.

About a month-and-a-half after Chalupa first started receiving hacking alerts, someone broke into her car outside the Northwest Washington home where she lives with her husband and three young daughters, she said. They “rampaged it, basically, but didn’t take anything valuable — left money, sunglasses, $1,200 worth of golf clubs,” she said, explaining she didn’t file a police report after that incident because she didn’t connect it to her research and the hacking.

But by the time a similar vehicle break-in occurred involving two family cars, she was convinced that it was a Russia-linked intimidation campaign. The police report on the latter break-in noted that “both vehicles were unlocked by an unknown person and the interior was ransacked, with papers and the garage openers scattered throughout the cars. Nothing was taken from the vehicles.”

Then, early in the morning on another day, a woman “wearing white flowers in her hair” tried to break into her family’s home at 1:30 a.m., Chalupa said. Shulyar told Chalupa that the mysterious incident bore some of the hallmarks of intimidation campaigns used against foreigners in Russia, according to Chalupa.

“This is something that they do to U.S. diplomats, they do it to Ukrainians. Like, this is how they operate. They break into people’s homes. They harass people. They’re theatrical about it,” Chalupa said. “They must have seen when I was writing to the DNC staff, outlining who Manafort was, pulling articles, saying why it was significant, and painting the bigger picture.”

In a Yahoo News story naming Chalupa as one of 16 “ordinary people” who “shaped the 2016 election,” Isikoff wrote that after Chalupa left the DNC, FBI agents investigating the hacking questioned her and examined her laptop and smartphone.

Chalupa this month told Politico that, as her research and role in the election started becoming more public, she began receiving death threats, along with continued alerts of state-sponsored hacking. But she said, “None of this has scared me off.”

•••

While it’s not uncommon for outside operatives to serve as intermediaries between governments and reporters, one of the more damaging Russia-related stories for the Trump campaign — and certainly for Manafort — can be traced more directly to the Ukrainian government.

Documents released by an independent Ukrainian government agency — and publicized by a parliamentarian — appeared to show $12.7 million in cash payments that were earmarked for Manafort by the Russia-aligned party of the deposed former president, Yanukovych.

The New York Times, in the August story revealing the ledgers’ existence, reported that the payments earmarked for Manafort were “a focus” of an investigation by Ukrainian anti-corruption officials, while CNN reported days later that the FBI was pursuing an overlapping inquiry.

Clinton’s campaign seized on the story to advance Democrats’ argument that Trump’s campaign was closely linked to Russia. The ledger represented “more troubling connections between Donald Trump’s team and pro-Kremlin elements in Ukraine,” Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, said in a statement. He demanded that Trump “disclose campaign chair Paul Manafort’s and all other campaign employees’ and advisers’ ties to Russian or pro-Kremlin entities, including whether any of Trump’s employees or advisers are currently representing and or being paid by them.”

A former Ukrainian investigative journalist and current parliamentarian named Serhiy Leshchenko, who was elected in 2014 as part of Poroshenko’s party, held a news conference to highlight the ledgers, and to urge Ukrainian and American law enforcement to aggressively investigate Manafort.

“I believe and understand the basis of these payments are totally against the law — we have the proof from these books,” Leshchenko said during the news conference, which attracted international media coverage. “If Mr. Manafort denies any allegations, I think he has to be interrogated into this case and prove his position that he was not involved in any misconduct on the territory of Ukraine,” Leshchenko added.

Manafort denied receiving any off-books cash from Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, and said that he had never been contacted about the ledger by Ukrainian or American investigators, later telling POLITICO “I was just caught in the crossfire.”

According to a series of memos reportedly compiled for Trump’s opponents by a former British intelligence agent, Yanukovych, in a secret meeting with Putin on the day after the Times published its report, admitted that he had authorized “substantial kickback payments to Manafort.” But according to the report, which was published Tuesday by BuzzFeed but remains unverified. Yanukovych assured Putin “that there was no documentary trail left behind which could provide clear evidence of this” — an alleged statement that seemed to implicitly question the authenticity of the ledger.

The scrutiny around the ledgers — combined with that from other stories about his Ukraine work — proved too much, and he stepped down from the Trump campaign less than a week after the Times story.

At the time, Leshchenko suggested that his motivation was partly to undermine Trump. “For me, it was important to show not only the corruption aspect, but that he is [a] pro-Russian candidate who can break the geopolitical balance in the world,” Leshchenko told the Financial Times about two weeks after his news conference. The newspaper noted that Trump’s candidacy had spurred “Kiev’s wider political leadership to do something they would never have attempted before: intervene, however indirectly, in a U.S. election,” and the story quoted Leshchenko asserting that the majority of Ukraine’s politicians are “on Hillary Clinton’s side.”

But by this month, Leshchenko was seeking to recast his motivation, telling Politico, “I didn’t care who won the U.S. elections. This was a decision for the American voters to decide.” His goal in highlighting the ledgers, he said was “to raise these issues on a political level and emphasize the importance of the investigation.”

In a series of answers provided to Politico, a spokesman for Poroshenko distanced his administration from both Leshchenko’s efforts and those of the agency that reLeshchenko Leshchenko leased the ledgers, The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine. It was created in 2014 as a condition for Ukraine to receive aid from the U.S. and the European Union, and it signed an evidence-sharing agreement with the FBI in late June — less than a month and a half before it released the ledgers.

The bureau is “fully independent,” the Poroshenko spokesman said, adding that when it came to the presidential administration there was “no targeted action against Manafort.” He added “as to Serhiy Leshchenko, he positions himself as a representative of internal opposition in the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko’s faction, despite [the fact that] he belongs to the faction,” the spokesman said, adding, “it was about him personally who pushed [the anti-corruption bureau] to proceed with investigation on Manafort.”

But an operative who has worked extensively in Ukraine, including as an adviser to Poroshenko, said it was highly unlikely that either Leshchenko or the anti-corruption bureau would have pushed the issue without at least tacit approval from Poroshenko or his closest allies.

“It was something that Poroshenko was probably aware of and could have stopped if he wanted to,” said the operative.

And, almost immediately after Trump’s stunning victory over Clinton, questions began mounting about the investigations into the ledgers — and the ledgers themselves.

An official with the anti-corruption bureau told a Ukrainian newspaper, “Mr. Manafort does not have a role in this case.”

And, while the anti-corruption bureau told Politico late last month that a “general investigation [is] still ongoing” of the ledger, it said Manafort is not a target of the investigation. “As he is not the Ukrainian citizen, [the anti-corruption bureau] by the law couldn’t investigate him personally,” the bureau said in a statement.

Some Poroshenko critics have gone further, suggesting that the bureau is backing away from investigating because the ledgers might have been doctored or even forged.

Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, a Ukrainian former diplomat who served as the country’s head of security under Poroshenko but is now affiliated with a leading opponent of Poroshenko, said it was fishy that “only one part of the black ledger appeared.” He asked, “Where is the handwriting analysis?” and said it was “crazy” to announce an investigation based on the ledgers. He met last month in Washington with Trump allies, and said, “of course they all recognize that our [anti-corruption bureau] intervened in the presidential campaign.”

And in an interview this week, Manafort, who re-emerged as an informal advisor to Trump after Election Day, suggested that the ledgers were inauthentic and called their publication “a politically motivated false attack on me. My role as a paid consultant was public. There was nothing off the books, but the way that this was presented tried to make it look shady.”

He added that he felt particularly wronged by efforts to cast his work in Ukraine as pro-Russian, arguing “all my efforts were focused on helping Ukraine move into Europe and the West.” He specifically cited his work on denuclearizing the country and on the European Union trade and political pact that Yanukovych spurned before fleeing to Russia. “In no case was I ever involved in anything that would be contrary to U.S. interests,” Manafort said.

Yet Russia seemed to come to the defense of Manafort and Trump last month, when a spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry charged that the Ukrainian government used the ledgers as a political weapon.

“Ukraine seriously complicated the work of Trump’s election campaign headquarters by planting information according to which Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, allegedly accepted money from Ukrainian oligarchs,” Maria Zakharova said at a news briefing, according to a transcript of her remarks posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website. “All of you have heard this remarkable story,” she told assembled reporters.

•••

Beyond any efforts to sabotage Trump, Ukrainian officials didn’t exactly extend a hand of friendship to the GOP nominee during the campaign.

The ambassador, Chaly, penned an op-ed for The Hill, in which he chastised Trump for a confusing series of statements in which the GOP candidate at one point expressed a willingness to consider recognizing Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea as legitimate. The op-ed made some in the embassy uneasy, sources said.

“That was like too close for comfort, even for them,” said Chalupa. “That was something that was as risky as they were going to be.”

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk warned on Facebook that Trump had “challenged the very values of the free world.”

Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs, Arsen Avakov, piled on, trashing Trump on Twitter in July as a “clown” and asserting that Trump is “an even bigger danger to the US than terrorism.”

Avakov, in a Facebook post, lashed out at Trump for his confusing Crimea comments, calling the assessment the “diagnosis of a dangerous misfit,” according to a translated screenshot featured in one media report, though he later deleted the post. He called Trump “dangerous for Ukraine and the US” and noted that Manafort worked with Yanukovych when the former Ukrainian leader “fled to Russia through Crimea. Where would Manafort lead Trump?”

The Trump-Ukraine relationship grew even more fraught in September with reports that the GOP nominee had snubbed Poroshenko on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where the Ukrainian president tried to meet both major party candidates, but scored only a meeting with Clinton.

Telizhenko, the former embassy staffer, said that, during the primaries, Chaly, the country’s ambassador in Washington, had actually instructed the embassy not to reach out to Trump’s campaign, even as it was engaging with those of Clinton and Trump’s leading GOP rival, Ted Cruz.

“We had an order not to talk to the Trump team, because he was critical of Ukraine and the government and his critical position on Crimea and the conflict,” said Telizhenko. “I was yelled at when I proposed to talk to Trump,” he said, adding, “The ambassador said not to get involved — Hillary is going to win.”

This account was confirmed by Nalyvaichenko, the former diplomat and security chief now affiliated with a Poroshenko opponent, who said, “The Ukrainian authorities closed all doors and windows — this is from the Ukrainian side.” He called the strategy “bad and short-sighted.”

Andriy Artemenko, a Ukrainian parliamentarian associated with a conservative opposition party, did meet with Trump’s team during the campaign and said he personally offered to set up similar meetings for Chaly but was rebuffed.

“It was clear that they were supporting Hillary Clinton’s candidacy,” Artemenko said. “They did everything from organizing meetings with the Clinton team, to publicly supporting her, to criticizing Trump. … I think that they simply didn’t meet because they thought that Hillary would win.”

Shulyar rejected the characterizations that the embassy had a ban on interacting with Trump, instead explaining that it “had different diplomats assigned for dealing with different teams tailoring the content and messaging. So it was not an instruction to abstain from the engagement but rather an internal discipline for diplomats not to get involved into a field she or he was not assigned to, but where another colleague was involved.”

And she pointed out that Chaly traveled to the GOP convention in Cleveland in late July and met with members of Trump’s foreign policy team “to highlight the importance of Ukraine and the support of it by the U.S.”

Despite the outreach, Trump’s campaign in Cleveland gutted a proposed amendment to the Republican Party platform that called for the U.S. to provide “lethal defensive weapons” for Ukraine to defend itself against Russian incursion, backers of the measure charged.

The outreach ramped up after Trump’s victory. Shulyar pointed out that Poroshenko was among the first foreign leaders to call to congratulate Trump. And she said that, since Election Day, Chaly has met with close Trump allies, including Sens. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, and Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, while the ambassador accompanied Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Ukraine’s vice prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, to a round of Washington meetings with Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), an early Trump backer, and Jim DeMint, president of The Heritage Foundation, which played a prominent role in Trump’s transition.

•••

Many Ukrainian officials and operatives and their American allies see Trump’s inauguration this month as an existential threat to the country, made worse, they admit, by the dissemination of the secret ledger, the antagonistic social media posts and the perception that the embassy meddled against — or at least shut out — Trump.

“It’s really bad. The [Poroshenko] administration right now is trying to re-coordinate communications,” said Telizhenko, adding, “The Trump organization doesn’t want to talk to our administration at all.”

During Nalyvaichenko’s trip to Washington last month, he detected lingering ill will toward Ukraine from some, and lack of interest from others, he recalled. “Ukraine is not on the top of the list, not even the middle,” he said.

Poroshenko’s allies are scrambling to figure out how to build a relationship with Trump, who is known for harboring and prosecuting grudges for years.

A delegation of Ukrainian parliamentarians allied with Poroshenko last month traveled to Washington partly to try to make inroads with the Trump transition team, but they were unable to secure a meeting, according to a Washington foreign policy operative familiar with the trip. And operatives in Washington and Kiev say that after the election, Poroshenko met in Kiev with top executives from the Washington lobbying firm BGR — including Ed Rogers and Lester Munson — about how to navigate the Trump regime.

Weeks later, BGR reported to the Department of Justice that the government of Ukraine would pay the firm $50,000 a month to “provide strategic public relations and government affairs counsel,” including “outreach to U.S. government officials, non-government organizations, members of the media and other individuals.”

Firm spokesman Jeffrey Birnbaum suggested that “pro-Putin oligarchs” were already trying to sow doubts about BGR’s work with Poroshenko. While the firm maintains close relationships with GOP congressional leaders, several of its principals were dismissive or sharply critical of Trump during the GOP primary, which could limit their effectiveness lobbying the new administration.

The Poroshenko regime’s standing with Trump is considered so dire that the president’s allies after the election actually reached out to make amends with — and even seek assistance from — Manafort, according to two operatives familiar with Ukraine’s efforts to make inroads with Trump.

Meanwhile, Poroshenko’s rivals are seeking to capitalize on his dicey relationship with Trump’s team. Some are pressuring him to replace Chaly, a close ally of Poroshenko’s who is being blamed by critics in Kiev and Washington for implementing — if not engineering — the country’s anti-Trump efforts, according to Ukrainian and U.S. politicians and operatives interviewed for this story. They say that several potential Poroshenko opponents have been through Washington since the election seeking audiences of their own with Trump allies, though most have failed to do do so.

“None of the Ukrainians have any access to Trump — they are all desperate to get it, and are willing to pay big for it,” said one American consultant whose company recently met in Washington with Yuriy Boyko, a former vice prime minister under Yanukovych. Boyko, who like Yanukovych has a pro-Russian worldview, is considering a presidential campaign of his own, and his representatives offered “to pay a shit-ton of money” to get access to Trump and his inaugural events, according to the consultant.

The consultant turned down the work, explaining, “It sounded shady, and we don’t want to get in the middle of that kind of stuff.”

“SOUNDS LIKE BEGINNING OF CIVIL WAR” SAYS EX-GERMAN MP ON ANTI-TRUMP TACTICS

Anti-Trump hostility is ‘artificial, organized’ by elites and media

RTJANUARY 12, 2017

The US establishment is working hard to make it impossible for Donald Trump to ditch the warmongering policies previous administrations pursued, and to deliver on his pledge to mend relations with Russia, former CDU defense spokesman Willy Wimmer told RT.

“When you see the situation in Washington, I think they are not willing, those who lost the election, to accept the new president whose name is Trump… What’s going on in Washington sounds like the beginning of a civil war,” said Wimmer, who is a former MP with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and also served as vice president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

The former OSCE top official noted that not only members of the Democratic Party, who staked everything on Clinton’s victory, but also Republicans from the war establishment camp, like Sen. John McCain, put up a united front against US President-elect Donald Trump’s plans to build good relations with other countries. Such foreign policy strategy may deal a blow to their hawkish worldview, Wimmer argues.

“There is a network of resistance against the President who will be in office on the 20th of January and I think when you look at the reality in Europe, people of all our European countries – they want to live in good [relations] with [the] Russian Federation,” Wimmer said, adding that the media campaign aimed at vilifying Trump resembles the way the mainstream media used to demonize Russia.

“There is no hostility [between Russia and Europe], the hostility is organized in a very artificial way and it is the same way of organizing hostilities as we see nowadays against Trump,” the former MP said.

Wimmer believes that the smear campaign against Trump is running full tilt with scores of scathing articles popping up “in all leading newspapers this morning all over the world.”

The main goal behind all this enormous effort is to “just to make it impossible for the new US President to go for a better policy, not leave as a warmonger as others did,” Wimmer said.

“This makes it very clear that there’s a network of Democratic and Republican war establishment in Washington and they are not willing to accept the ballots,” the former lawmaker explained.

Wimmer argued that while Russia-EU relations have deteriorated in the past few years – following Crimea’s reunification with Russia, which led to sanctions encouraged by Washington – the EU and Moscow “had excellent relations” before “something… changed in the US policy.”

Now we are in a situation that everything they do, everything which can be done also with regard of the next German elections is to find reasons to go for conflict or even to go for a war,” Wimmer said, describing the tension existing in the increasingly polarized world as “most dramatic days we have in our lifetime.”

Wimmer suggested that to avert confrontation, instead of sticking to narrow interests, one “should look at the broad picture.”

“I think everybody in Europe wants to see Trump in office pursuing the policy he explained during the campaign – to go for good relationships with others, including with the Russian Federation,” he said, adding that there is “no reason” for Europe “to perform hostility towards the Russian population or to the Russian government.”

During his campaign and after winning the election, Trump has been repeatedly accused by the US mainstream media and Democratic Party politicians of having ties to Russia and to Russian President Vladimir Putin, with Washington officials painting the Russian government as a pro-Trump, and capable of tilting the American election in Trump’s favor with alleged “hacking attacks” on the Democratic Party.

The president-elect repeatedly denied the claims, dismissing it as fake news.

“Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only stupid people, or fools, would think that it is bad! We have enough problems around the world without yet another one,” a statement on Trump’s Facebook page said on January 7, adding that he and the Russian president may “work together to solve some of the many great and pressing problems and issues of the WORLD!”

‘Under Obama, family median income dropped and Democratic Party imploded’

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There was a great opportunity for the Democrats in 2008, but Obama’s policies have resulted in the Democratic Party now being on the verge of collapse, journalist Jack Rasmus told RT. Retired US Army GeneralPaul E. Vallely also provided his views.

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On Tuesday Barack Obama gave his farewell presidential address in Chicago. He said America is in a “better, stronger place” than when he took office eight years ago. He also seemed hopeful about the future of the US.

RT: How do you think history will judge President Obama’s eight years in the White House?

Jack Rasmus: Well, I think his two greatest legacies, and there are a number of them are not that positive. One – on his watch here for the last eight years notwithstanding on the positive things he said about how we’re supposed to be better off than we were eight years ago, which is debatable – the biggest legacy is that certainly the wealthy have recovered very dramatically. Ninety-seven percent of all of the net income gains since 2008 have gone to the wealthiest one percent. Households, at the same time, the middle class, the median family income has continued to decline every year in real terms. I think that is going to be a legacy which is worse than under George W. Bush, and worse than under Clinton.

Any other legacy that people are not talking about is that on his watch, as the head of the Democratic Party, that party has almost imploded: roughly two-thirds of all the state legislatures and governorships are now in the hands of Republicans. Clearly, there was a great opportunity in 2008, and it was the Obama policies that have resulted in the Democratic Party being in such a bad shape. It may not even recover from here going forward. So those two things will be the primary legacies here.

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Also, he kind of governed from Washington. He sat behind the desk. Unlike other presidents you didn’t see him that much on television giving speeches to the nation, trying to rally people around his policies and going out touring the country as other presidents have done to try to rally support.

He stayed in Washington behind the desk there and played it very cautious on a whole number of fronts. We see the result of that. The country is not better off, regardless of what he said. In a whole number of ways it’s worse off, it is more divided. His speech talked about solidarity because clearly, the country is very, very divided. Even his ratings are a little bit higher than they were two years ago. It was just two years ago that they were as bad as George W. Bush in 2008. So they couldn’t get much worse.

RT: Back in 2008, Barack Obama said he would “not waste a minute” in trying to resolve conflicts in the Middle East. Did he live up to that promise?

JR: Clearly, the Iran deal was something of a win, but the whole Middle East is on fire still, and that hasn’t been corrected. We’re still in a 16-year war in Afghanistan with the government their collapsing. We’re still fighting ISIS in Iraq. The foreign policy – we’re dangerously here arming Eastern Europe. The neocons and the US State Department ran amok on his watch in Ukraine and elsewhere, and he put a stake in the ground for a possible future confrontation with China. So foreign policy has not been the best of his records.

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‘Delusional state of mind’

When you look at the economics, you look at the Middle East, you look at all the failures that we’ve had from a foreign policy standpoint, his presidency will go down as a failure, says Paul E. Vallely, retired US Army General.

RT: How do you think history will judge President Obama’s eight years in the White House?

Paul E Vallely: … I think the legacy will be that he has had a failure as a president over eight years. Many things are not as he explains it – I guess sort of living in what we call a delusional state of mind, not looking at the reality of the world. When you look at the economics, you look at the Middle East, you look at all the failures that we’ve had from a foreign policy standpoint, his presidency will go down as a failure in my opinion.

RT: In his speech, Obama said: “No foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland these past eight years.” Do you think he has succeeded in reducing the terror threat?

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PV: No, it is actually increased not only in the US and coming across to our borders and radicalizing a lot of – what we might call immigrants who have come into this country – plus others who have become a terror threat unto its own in our cities and in our neighborhoods. When you look at what’s happened in Europe, and throughout even the Middle East and Turkey, we’ve had an increase in radical Islamic terrorism. So it is not true that we’re better off than we were before. We’re actually under a bigger threat than ever.

RT: Do you think that is because of US foreign policy? Yesterday the director of the CIA said that the Obama administration made a mistake when it hoped to impose Western values and Western-style democracy in the Middle East during the Arab Spring. Do you think there is a link between foreign policy and the issues that you’ve just raised?

PV: Sure there is. When we look back, Iraq was never a real threat to the US. They were economically really in bad shape. So when Bush went into Iraq and Afghanistan, they attempted to do nation building, basically trying to bring some kind of democracy to those countries and cultures, which was really counter to Islam and Sharia law, and it would never have worked.

It was very naïve for our leaders to think we could go into the Middle East and make them into democracies. As we well know, democracy has to grow from within, not from without. This has been a very big issue in the US. Our foreign policy has not been well-thought out with vision and strategy that we need to have in order to help countries, not to get in and cause chaos and disturbance.

There has not been a smooth transition [of power] as he had with President [George W.] Bush. There’s been constant fake news put in the media and spread by broadcasting networks like CNN… this has created a lot of disturbances. But listen. President-elect Trump and his new cabinet, staff and transition team, they’re above it all. And they’re not stooping down to believe that any of this is going to have any effect on our new president in 10 days. It’s going to be a whole new different American that we’re going to see here.

Whatever happened to smooth presidential transition Obama vowed?

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BY ANDREW MALCOLM

“You better stop stealing money from your mother’s purse, young man, or I will punish you late this year or perhaps sometime in 2018,” said no parent who was serious about punishment.

Yet that’s pretty much what President Obama did with his old-fashioned expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats over alleged political hacking by Moscow interests going back 18 months.

A very strange retro-response from a president who mocked Mitt Romney for suggesting in 2012 that Russia was America’s worst strategic threat. Obama said: “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”

As has often happened when Obama shoots from the lip sans teleprompter (think his red line in Syria, ISIS is a JV squad), the aloof one is wrong.

Obama’s been golfing and snorkeling in Hawaii since mid-December. But he left orders for a number of last-minute steps, including more ineffective sanctions against Russia and a stunning historic break with Israel. Indeed, these measures smell more of vengeance than practical policy.

Petty political ploys are standard operating procedure back in the Chicago wards that spawned Obama’s career. They’re less expected at the presidential level. In fact,

Russia’s president declined to retaliate.

Anyone needs an oversized ego to see themselves as president of all of Obama’s alleged 57 United States. But Obama’s ego is larger even than the million-acre national monument he recently imposed on Utah.

And when Obama’s ego rubs against those of other, let’s say, non-self-effacing egos like Vladimir Putin, Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump, friction is inevitable.

With Putin, Obama’s actions smack of a jilted suitor. Remember in 2009 when Obama was in full Russia suck-up mode announcing a botched reset in relations with Moscow and even unilaterally canceling a missile defense system within former Soviet satellites, without telling them?

Like most dictatorships getting what they want, Russia reacted predictably, not by cooperating in return but by pushing for more. (See Munich Pact with Hitler, 1938.) The Putin gang did not help restrain Iran, but sold it sophisticated arms in defiance of U.N sanctions.

Russia annexed Crimea, fomented guerrilla war in Ukraine, moved militarily into Syria and the Mideast, seeks to undermine NATO and harassed U.S. military at sea.

And Russians, according to U.S. intelligence sources, also hacked the emails of Democrat organizations and operatives to their extreme political embarrassment during a presidential race.

But wait! Nearly seven years into Obama’s reign and two months before the Ruskies hacked Democrats, the Chinese allegedly broke into the Office of Management and Budget. They got all the personnel files, Social Security numbers, security concerns and clearances for 21.5 million current and former federal employees.

How many Chinese did Obama expel? What other retaliation did he order? None, actually.

We might guess that Obama making an international stink over Chinese hacking would raise the question, of why after all of Obama’s warnings, security commissions and vows about the paramount importance of national security, this federal government’s cybersecurity remains a sieve.

For someone who attended Harvard, Obama often claims a convenient ignorance: Among the examples: The imploded ObamaCare website, the IRS harassment scandal and his unexplained absence during the murderous Benghazi night.

The president claimed ignorance of Hillary Clinton’s insecure email server, though he knew how to message her there. And recall he initially dismissed Edward Snowden as a mere hacker. It took Obama a year to call Syria on using chemical weapons, then he quickly backed down, blaming Congress.

Since Obama vowed to run a smooth presidential transition, what’s the real point of picking a tardy diplomatic scuffle with Putin? What’s the real point of setting Israel (and the annoying Netanyahu) adrift at the United Nations now?

Why issue all these offshore drilling bans and new federal regulations? Why commute more federal prison sentences than a dozen past presidents combined? Why keep releasing Guantanamo terrorists when so many return to their homicidal careers?

Might it be to plant political IEDs for his annoying successor, as Democrats seek to restore their party? For the first time in nearly a century a former president decided to reside in Washington. Obama has rented a mansion and office space where he’ll be easily accessible to media friends for, say, kibitzing his successor – unlike Obama’s predecessor, who went silent for more than a year.

SOROS: TRUMP IS A “WOULD BE DICTATOR” WHO THREATENS THE NEW WORLD ORDER

Billionaire globalist pens panicked rant

Paul Joseph Watson | Infowars.com – DECEMBER 29, 2016

Billionaire globalist George Soros has penned a panicked rant in which he decries President-elect Donald Trump as a “would be dictator” who threatens the future of the new world order.

In an article for Project Syndicate, Soros begins by mentioning how he lived under both Nazi and then Soviet rule in Hungary before asserting that “various forms of closed societies – from fascist dictatorships to mafia states – are on the rise.”

This claim is confounded by the facts, which show that, “The share of the world population living in democracies (has) increased continuously.”

Soros writes that in voting for Trump, Americans “elected a con artist and would-be dictator as its president,” and that his defeat of Hillary Clinton means America will be “unable to protect and promote democracy in the rest of the world” (because that policy worked so well in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya).

Soros also slams Trump’s new cabinet as containing nothing other than “incompetent extremists” and “retired generals”.

Explaining how he supports the European Union because it is a successful attempt at “social engineering,” Soros laments the fact that the body has become “increasingly dysfunctional” and its disintegration has been accelerated, “first from Brexit, then from the election of Trump in the US, and on December 4 from Italian voters’ rejection, by a wide margin, of constitutional reforms.”

Soros also bemoans Russian President Vladimir Putin’s alleged undue influence during the presidential election.

“At first, he tried to control social media. Then, in a brilliant move, he exploited social media companies’ business model to spread misinformation and fake news, disorienting electorates and destabilizing democracies. That is how he helped Trump get elected,” writes Soros.

Soros says Putin “felt threatened by “color revolutions” in Georgia, Ukraine, and elsewhere,” without mentioning that Soros himself played a key role in bankrolling these contrived uprisings, as well as the color revolution being fomented against Trump.

The irony of an ultra-rich elitist who has bankrolled the overthrow of innumerable governments insisting he cares about “democracy” and the will of the people is particularly rich.

The whole tone of the piece is clearly fraught with concern that the populist movement sweeping the west poses a direct threat to the plutocratic new world order that Soros has spent his entire life helping to build.

He concludes by warning that “the EU is on the verge of breakdown” due to stagnant economic growth and the out of control refugee crisis (that Soros himself again helped create in the first place as a way to obtain political power).

Russia not on Trump’s list of Pentagon priorities: Leaked memo worries establishment

President-elect Donald Trump is looking to focusing on defeating ISIS and cutting wasteful spending, according to communications between his transition officials and the Pentagon. Russia’s absence from the list, however, has alarmed some in Washington.

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The top four priorities for the president-elect’s transition team are defeating Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), eliminating the sequester, developing a new cyber strategy and eliminating wasteful spending, according to a December 1 memo from Undersecretary of Defense for policy Brian McKeon.

The list was communicated to McKeon by Mira Ricardel, one of the leaders of Trump’s Pentagon transition team, according to the memo obtained by Foreign Policy magazine and published Tuesday.

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Notably absent from the memo is Russia, which the current Pentagon leadership labeled the number-one threat to the US.

Foreign Policy cited the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, as saying that Russia “could pose an existential threat” to the US – more so than China, North Korea or IS, which rounded out the list. The link provided by the magazine refers to Dunford’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July 2015.

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The US “foreign policy establishment – including large swaths of employees at the Pentagon, State Department and CIA – remains deeply skeptical of Moscow,” said the magazine. The article included quotes by former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia Evelyn Farkas and Brookings Institution scholar Steven Pifer, both known for hostility towards Russia.

Foreign Policy also reached out to Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges, commander of US Army forces in Europe. Without quoting him directly, the magazine reported that Hodges saying that the Pentagon and NATO have “revamped some training exercises specifically to replicate fighting Russian armed forces” and that US, British and Canadian troops were training Ukrainian forces who are “seeing daily combat with Russian-trained and equipped separatists.” Hodges reportedly also claimed that many of those units were led by Russian officers.

READ MORE: US troops rushed to Poland before Trump’s inauguration

While Trump’s transition team did not deny the authenticity of the memo, it reportedly said there was more to it than meets the eye.

“For the media to speculate that this list of issues represents all of the president-elect’s priorities is completely erroneous and misleading,” a Trump transition official, who insisted on anonymity, told Foreign Policy.

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The published priorities list matches what Trump has addressed on the campaign trail, from pledges to defeat IS to promises to rebuild the US military and review expensive but ineffective weapons programs such as the F-35.