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Mueller gathered evidence suggesting DNC, Clinton camp manufactured Russia collusion story

Memos show Clinton-DNC effort to tie Trump to Russia began as early as May 2016 in Ukraine, but Mueller didn't include in final report.

Published: October 29, 2020 2:34pm

Updated: October 31, 2020 11:20am

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office gathered evidence suggesting that Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee launched a political "smear job" in spring 2016 tying Donald Trump to Russia collusion through the lobbying work of his campaign chairman Paul Manafort in Ukraine, according to memos that were excluded from the prosecutor's final report.

The evidence, reviewed by Just the News, includes information obtained by State Department officials from a trusted Ukrainian source, a private investigator's report, and an email exchange suggesting Tony Podesta — a Manafort business associate and brother of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta — tried at one point to slow down the opposition research project.

The evidence — which is additional to records showing the law firm for the Clinton campaign and the DNC funded the infamous "Steele dossier" given to the FBI — was never mentioned in last year's vast, two-volume Mueller Report, which concluded that no Americans colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election.

The newly surfaced evidence bolsters separate intelligence reporting that Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe made public recently showing the Obama CIA also believed Clinton's campaign had launched a political dirty trick to "vilify" Trump on Russia in an effort to distract from her own controversies.

"We did have evidence to show that early collusion allegations against Trump and Manafort were created or propagated by people who either worked for the DNC or the Clinton campaign, including some efforts that went beyond the Steele dossier," a person with direct knowledge of the Mueller probe told Just the News.

The person spoke only on condition of anonymity because the person did not have permission to speak to the news media.

Asked why the Mueller report did not mention the Clinton campaign tactics, the source answered: "Our job was to report on and prosecute crimes, not write an essay on how political opposition research was conducted by the two parties."

Unredacted emails and other documents gathered by Mueller's team suggest the earliest hint of the Democrats' Russia collusion smear campaign emerged in a May 2016 email exchange between Democratic super-lobbyist Tony Podesta and Manafort's lead business manager in Ukraine, Rick Gates, who also worked as a deputy campaign manager for the Trump campaign. The thread appeared under the subject line: "DNC and Paul Manafort."

Though on opposite sides of the political spectrum, Tony Podesta, Manafort and Gates worked together on lobbying and political consulting projects related to Ukraine's Party of Regions and former President Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted from power in 2014.

"Last Friday APAC had a meeting at DNC organized by their ethnic outreach office, presenting Democratic Party strategies for presidential elections," Gates emailed Tony Podesta on May 17, 2016. "One of the subjects was a smear campaign against Paul Manafort, which will be launched in a couple of days. The head of the ethnic outreach is of Ukrainian descent and has connections in Ukraine.

"She was able to produce documents linking Manafort to Moscow during his time as adviser to Victor Yanukowych (cq), ousted former Ukrainian president. They will try to link Donald Trump to Putin through Manafort's engagement and money trail of over [a] billion dollars. This was a formal presentation on the part of DNC — I am trying to obtain an audio tape from the meeting. I just wanted to share this with you to make you aware before they start."

Tony Podesta responded by asking what APAC was and Gates wrote back: "You will love this one ... the American Polish Advisory Council."

A few days later, Podesta reported back to Gates in a May 23, 2016 email: "Think I slowed this down."

Other documents show how Gates and Manafort got a first-hand account of what happened at the APAC event with Chalupa from an official with the Polish lobby. 

In an interview, Gates confirmed to Just the News that the email exchanges occurred and said that Podesta eventually disclosed to the Manafort team that the DNC's lead figure on the opposition research campaign targeting Trump was a Ukrainian-American woman and DNC contractor named Alexandra Chalupa.

Gates, who later pled guilty to financial crimes and became a cooperating witness in the Mueller probe, added that he was questioned by the prosecutor's team about Chalupa's work and his contacts with Podesta.

"In interview sessions with the Special Counsel's office I was asked about two issues related to Tony Podesta," Gates said. "The first was a series of emails between Tony and me about questions posed by the Associated Press in relation to the lobbying work that Paul's firm and Tony's firm did in Ukraine.

"The second issue was an email exchange I had with Tony Podesta in spring 2016 requesting Tony's help and support about a political opposition project that was being orchestrated by the DNC against Paul Manafort to falsely tie him to Russia as a means of suggesting Trump was tied to Russia," he added. "I told the Special Counsel I reached out to Tony at Paul's request to see if he could help.

"Tony came back to me and identified the DNC operative who was running the operation as Alexandra Chalupa, the head of their ethnic coalitions. Tony also indicated he believed he had been successful in slowing down the opposition research against Paul."

In answers to emailed questions, Tony Podesta told Just the News that the May 2016 email exchange "looks authentic," but he vehemently disputed Gates' claim that he intervened with the DNC to slow down any anti-Trump research or even knew Chalupa's name.

"Never did anything," Podesta wrote. "Didn't tell him Chalupa was at DNC. Didn't know about Chalupa."

"Don't remember what it refers to but clearly not Chalupa and Manafort," he added.  

Chalupa, John Podesta, the DNC and Hillary Clinton's office did not immediately return requests seeking comment.

Chalupa's name first emerged in January 2017, when a Politico article reported she had contacts with the Ukrainian embassy in Washington and worked extensively to try to expose Manafort's and Trump's ties to Russia during the 2016 election.

In early spring 2016, according to the article, she briefed the DNC's communications staff on Manafort, Trump and their ties to Russia. In an email to the DNC communications director, she said that she'd provided information on Manafort to journalist Michael Isikoff and connected him to Ukrainian journalists for more dirt on Manafort.

DNC officials told Politico at the time that Chalupa undertook her investigations into Trump, Manafort and Russia on her own. Chalupa told CNN In July 2017 that she "was not an opposition researcher for the DNC, and the DNC never asked me to go to the Ukrainian Embassy to collect information." She posted on Facebook shortly after publication of the Politico story that it was nonsense.

However, according to Politico, a former DNC official acknowledged that Chalupa was encouraged by the DNC to ask embassy staff to arrange to have then-Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko discuss Manafort's ties to former president Yanukovych. 

Democrats have tried over the years to impugn the article, but the Ukrainian embassy in 2019 confirmed to The Hill newspaper that Chalupa did in fact solicit the embassy's help on her opposition research but the Ukrainians turned her down.

Whatever the case, the Gates-Manafort email exchange provided Mueller's team with evidence that Democrats were working to create a narrative of Trump-Russia collusion. It wasn't the only evidence.

Mueller's investigation also obtained from Gates' computers a private investigator's report commissioned by Manafort's office entitled "Unmasking the Left's Red Scare Anti-Trump Operatives." The report purportedly traced Chalupa's activities in Ukraine and the United States during the 2016 election.

"The DNC predictably is trying to distance itself from Chalupa, noting that it paid her to do outreach for its political department, not for her research," the 2017 report concluded. "But there is no question that she was paid by the DNC throughout the election cycle and that the research she provided informed and shaped Clinton campaign strategy."

Separately, in August 2016, a State Department official named Eric Schultz received from Konstantin Kilimnik — a trusted, longtime source in Kiev — similar intelligence about a Clinton campaign in Ukraine to tie Trump to Russia through Manafort.

"First, it is definitely HRC and her HQ who launched this shitstorm trying to use construction of "Putin = very bad, Putin = Manafort, Manafort = Trump, therefore Trump = Putin = very bad," Kilimnik emailed Schultz on Aug. 22, 2016 (around the time the stories that would force Manafort to resign as Trump campaign chairman started emerging).

Kilimnik was a Ukrainian businessman who worked with Manafort and Gates. He was routinely interviewed as a sensitive source by U.S. officials in the Kiev embassy. State Department officials told Mueller's team they considered Kilimnik to be one of the few reliable Ukrainians who helped the Obama administration.

Mueller's team, however, has since charged Kilimnik with financial crimes related to the Manafort case and concluded in its final report he was believed to have ties to Russian intelligence, a charge Kilimnik denies. He remains at large.

A month before Kilimnik's Aug. 22 message to Schultz, CIA officials obtained almost identical information from Russian sources that Clinton had ordered a campaign "stirring up" false Russia collusion allegations to tar Trump, according to evidence recently declassified by Ratcliffe.

The CIA was concerned enough about the intelligence that it briefed President Obama and then made an investigative referral to the FBI, which was leading the investigation known as Crossfire Hurricane into alleged Trump-Russia collusion.

In the end, none of the warning signs about the Steele dossier and the Clinton campaign's dirty trick stopped the FBI from continuing its investigation. And the evidence Mueller gathered showing Clinton ties to the smear campaign mostly remained secret until the last few weeks.

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