Senate panel look into Ukraine interference comes up short

Source: Politico | December 2, 2019 | Natasha Bertrand

Some Republican senators recently questioned whether Kyiv tried to sabotage Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016. But the GOP-led Intelligence Committee looked into the theory, and found scant evidence to support it.

With the impeachment inquiry charging forward, President Donald Trump’s allies have defended his demand for political investigations from Ukraine by claiming that the government in Kyiv tried to sabotage his candidacy and boost Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“Russia was very aggressive and they’re much more sophisticated, but the fact that Russia was so aggressive does not exclude the fact that President Poroshenko actively worked for Secretary Clinton,” Republican Sen. John Kennedy claimed on Sunday in an interview with NBC, referring to the former Ukrainian president.

But the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee thoroughly investigated that theory, according to people with direct knowledge of the inquiry, and found no evidence that Ukraine waged a top-down interference campaign akin to the Kremlin’s efforts to help Trump win in 2016.

The committee’s Republican chairman, Richard Burr of North Carolina, said in October 2017 that the panel would be examining “collusion by either campaign during the 2016 elections.”

But an interview that fall with the Democratic consultant at the heart of the accusation that Kyiv meddled, Alexandra Chalupa, was fruitless, a committee source said, and Republicans didn’t follow up or request any more witnesses related to the issue.

The Senate interview largely focused on a POLITICO article published in January 2017, according to a person with direct knowledge of the closed-door hearing, in which Chalupa was quoted as saying officials at the Ukrainian Embassy were “helpful” to her effort to raise the alarm about Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort in 2016.

“If I asked a question, they would provide guidance, or if there was someone I needed to follow up with,” she said at the time. She cautioned, however, that the embassy was “very careful” not to get involved politically because of the bipartisan support Ukraine has traditionally enjoyed from U.S. lawmakers. As the POLITICO article noted, there was “little evidence” of a “top-down effort” by the Ukraianian government to sabotage Trump’s campaign. And the article did not allege that Poroshenko “actively worked” for Clinton, as Kennedy claimed.

In her Senate testimony, Chalupa denied serving as an intermediary between the Ukrainian embassy and the DNC and said she had been targeted by a Russian active measures campaign. Intelligence officials have since briefed senators on Russia’s attempts to pin blame for the 2016 interference on Kyiv as part of a disinformation operation, according to a source familiar with the briefings, which were first reported by the New York Times.

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