The Senate Judiciary Committee is questioning whether the Democratic National Committee violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) by working with Ukrainian government officials to undermine Donald Trump’s presidential campaign last year.
In a letter sent to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley pointed to a report published by Politico in January laying out DNC official Alexandra Chalupa’s collaboration with Ukrainian politicians to compile research on Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman.
Chalupa, a Ukrainian-American activist who is no longer affiliated with the DNC, was paid $70,000 as a consultant for the party during the 2016 presidential cycle. She was paid $412,000 between 2004 and last year.
Republicans have recently latched onto the Politico expose as evidence of a double standard in the reporting about the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian attorney who allegedly promised to provide opposition research on Hillary Clinton.
Trump critics have responded by pointing out that Ukraine is not an adversary of the U.S., as is Russia. The Ukrainian effort also appears to be far less sophisticated than the Kremlin’s efforts to hack Democrats’ emails and disseminate them through several websites. The DNC-Ukraine collaboration also did not directly involve the Clinton campaign.
Even some Democrats, including California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, acknowledged earlier this month that DNC collusion with the Ukrainian government was “problematic.” (RELATED: Adam Schiff Calls DNC Cooperation With Ukraine ‘Problematic’)
Nevertheless, Grassley says that Chalupa’s and the DNC’s activities could be a violation of FARA, which requires agents of foreign governments to disclose their activities.
The anti-Trump effort “appear[s] to be exactly the type of activity Congress intended to reach with FARA,” Grassley wrote to Rosenstein, who would be the point-man on the issue because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from all matters related to campaign meddling.
The Politico piece largely flew under the media radar when it was first reported, partially because it was published just after BuzzFeed News published a dossier of salacious and uncorroborated allegations about Trump campaign collusion with the Kremlin.
According to the report, the DNC encouraged Chalupa to meet with staffers at the Ukrainian embassy in order to “arrange an interview in which [Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko] might discuss Manafort’s ties” to Viktor Yanukovych, Poroshenko’s predecessor and an ally of Vladimir Putin’s.
In March, Chalupa met with Ukrainian Amb. Valeriy Chaly and one of his aides. The aide, Oksana Shulyar, reportedly shared her concerns regarding Manafort with Chalupa.
Politico also reported that a Ukrainian embassy official claimed that he was instructed by Shulyar to help Chalupa research Trump and Manafort.
In May, Chalupa contacted DNC communications director Luis Miranda, revealing that she had invited investigative reporter Michael Isikoff to an event at the Library of Congress. Two days earlier, Isikoff reported on a $26 million telecom deal between Manafort and Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
It is unclear if Isikoff received the tip off for the investigation from Chalupa or the Ukrainians.
The DNC has attempted to distance the organization from Chalupa, saying that she was an events coordinator and undertook the research efforts on her own initiative. But Grassley is likely to bring up the arrangement on Wednesday, when the Judiciary Committee holds a hearing to discuss shortcomings in FARA.
Witnesses invited to the hearing include Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general, Adam Hickey, the DOJ official in charge of FARA, and Bill Priestap, assistant FBI director in charge of the Counterintelligence Division.
In his letter, Grassley is asking Rosenstein whether the DOJ has inquired with Chalupa about registering under FARA. He is also questioning whether DOJ is investigating what he says is the Ukrainian government’s “intervention in the 2016 presidential election on behalf of the Clinton campaign.”