President Donald Trump stands with Charlie Kirk after speaking to the Generation Next Summit on March 22, 2018, in Washington. (AP/Vucci) President Donald Trump stands with Charlie Kirk after speaking to the Generation Next Summit on March 22, 2018, in Washington. (AP/Vucci)

President Donald Trump stands with Charlie Kirk after speaking to the Generation Next Summit on March 22, 2018, in Washington. (AP/Vucci)

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy October 3, 2019

Fact-checking Charlie Kirk’s misleading tweet about Democrats, Ukraine

Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk floated a trio of misleading claims on Twitter in an effort to link Democrats to misconduct in Ukraine.

"Barack Obama asked Ukraine to investigate his political rival's campaign manager, 3 Democrat senators asked Ukraine to investigate Trump, and the DNC solicited Ukraine's help to dig up dirt on Trump, and the media was silent about all of it," Kirk wrote in the Sept 29 tweet.  

House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump after discovering he had urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential challenger in the 2020 presidential election.

Kirk, Trump and other conservatives have tried pinning allegations of wrongdoing back on Democrats. During a Sept. 25 press conference, Trump charged that Democratic senators "have actually done what they’re accusing me of doing, which I didn’t do."

But what are the facts about these claims? 

We decided to break Kirk’s tweet down and see how each of his three claims stacked up to the facts. Put simply, all three are oversimplified and misleading.

"Barack Obama asked Ukraine to investigate his political rival's campaign manager"

This claim is unproven. We found no evidence that former President Barack Obama asked Ukraine to investigate Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager. 

In a statement to PolitiFact, a spokesperson for Kirk pointed to opinion pieces in the Washington Post, Fox News and The Hill. According to one such article by The Hill’s John Solomon, investigators from Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) met with U.S. officials in January 2016 to discuss coordinating their anti-corruption efforts.

Andrii Telizhenko, a former Ukrainian embassy official, told Solomon that Obama’s Justice Department asked the NABU officials during that meeting to revive a closed 2014 investigation of payments to Manafort by former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who fled Ukraine in 2014 amid protests.

But Telizhenko — who worked at the embassy for less than a year, per the Washington Post — also said he could not remember if Manafort was specifically mentioned at the meeting.

Solomon also quoted Telizhenko and another Ukrainian official drawing a link between the January 2016 meeting and the release months later of a ledger showing off-the-books payments from Yanukovych’s political party to Manafort. 

Serhiy Leshchenko, the member of Ukraine's parliament and investigative journalist who revealed the existence of the ledger in a press conference, wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed that he was not working with the intent of helping Democrats.

"This was Leshchenko coming forward," said Steven Pifer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine under President Bill Clinton. "Nothing I have seen suggests that he did so at the request of the Obama White House."

John Herbst, director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council and the former ambassador to Ukraine under President George W. Bush, said the release of the ledger was not unusual: "When the ledger came out, as someone who’s been watching Ukraine very closely for the last five years, that seemed to be an absolutely normal development given Ukraine’s own politics."

Ukrainians were already attentive to Manafort because of his connections to Yanukovych, Herbst said. They became more interested once Manafort became part of the Trump campaign.

"I am a bit skeptical about the notion that you had Ukrainians meeting with the Justice Department to plot strategy on this thing," Herbst said. "I can’t flatly tell you it’s wrong."

Whatever was said, it’s also important to note that the alleged discussion happened in January 2016, while Trump didn’t hire Manafort to work on his campaign until March 2016. Manafort was named campaign chairman in May 2016.

Solomon did not respond to a request for comment but defended his work on Twitter. A spokesman for Obama declined to comment.

"3 Democrat senators asked Ukraine to investigate Trump" 

This claim distorts what happened.

In May 2018, Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Bob Menendez of New Jersey wrote a letter to Yuriy Lutsenko, prosecutor general of Ukraine, urging him to cooperate with former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation on Russian election interference.

Citing an article from the New York Times, the senators noted that Ukraine had reportedly stopped four investigations related to the Mueller probe for fear that the country’s cooperation could have jeopardized its ability to secure financial and military aid from the United States.

"If these reports are true, we strongly encourage you to reverse course and halt any efforts to impede cooperation with this important investigation," they wrote.

The senators also asked if the Trump administration had encouraged Ukrainian officials to impede Mueller’s investigations in Ukraine. But they never asked Ukraine to investigate Trump, as Kirk falsely claimed. The senators clarified their intentions in a recent press release.

"This wasn’t about asking for an investigation, but to follow up on the New York Times report that the Ukraine prosecutor was ending his own ongoing investigations and not cooperating with queries from Mueller concerning Manafort," Leahy spokesman David Carle told PolitiFact.

"And the DNC solicited Ukraine's help to dig up dirt on Trump"

This claim is misleading. It has its origins in a 2017 Politico report, which we’ve looked at before.

According to the report, a Ukrainian-American consultant for the Democratic National Committee looked for compromising information about Manafort and revealed some findings to officials at the Ukrainian embassy and the DNC.

But Kirk’s claim overstates the report’s findings. There’s no evidence that the DNC was working directly with Ukraine’s government.

The consultant, Alexandra Chalupa, told Politico that she had taken it upon herself to research Manafort’s connections to Yanukovych, the ousted former Ukrainian president. As Trump’s campaign surged, she started researching Trump’s ties to Russia, as well.

Chalupa shared some rumors and findings with officials from the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, the report said. The day after Trump hired Manafort, she told the DNC’s communications team about Manafort, Trump and their ties to Russia. Hacked emails also show her telling a DNC official a few months later that she had more information on Manafort.

The Politico report also said the DNC encouraged Chalupa to ask Ukrainian embassy staff if former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Yanukovych’s successor, would be willing to take a question from a reporter on Manafort’s hire and ties to Yanukovych.

But a former DNC staffer told Politico the DNC was "not directing or driving her work."

Chalupa took issue with the Politico article in a Facebook post. She told CNN she was not an opposition researcher and that the DNC never asked her to seek dirt from Ukraine. Multiple DNC and Clinton campaign officials also denied working with the Ukraine government.

Kenneth Vogel, one of the reporters behind the Politico story, clarified on Twitter that the "DNC consultant was not repping DNC" in her communications with Ukrainians.

Adrienne Watson, spokeswoman for the DNC, told PolitiFact that Chalupa was a part-time consultant hired to help the DNC "engage in outreach to American ethnic communities."

"The DNC’s contract with Chalupa permitted her to have other clients and/or engage in activities not on behalf of the DNC, which she presumably did," Watson said.

Our ruling

Kirk said, "Barack Obama asked Ukraine to investigate his political rival's campaign manager, 3 Democrat senators asked Ukraine to investigate Trump, and the DNC solicited Ukraine's help to dig up dirt on Trump, and the media was silent about all of it."

Kirk’s three claims are all rooted in events or incidents that did transpire, but they oversimplify what happened in such a way that they give a misleading impression.

We rate this statement Mostly False.

Our Sources

Charlie Kirk on Twitter, Sept. 29, 2019

The Hill, "How the Obama White House engaged Ukraine to give Russia collusion narrative an early boost," April 25, 2019

The Hill, "Let's get real: Democrats were first to enlist Ukraine in US elections," Sept. 23, 2019

The Washington Post, "Democrats’ double standard on Ukraine," Sept. 24, 2019

Fox News, "Andrew McCarthy: Triangulating Manafort -- Obama, Clinton and Ukraine," Sept. 24, 2019

Sen. Patrick Leahy, "Leading Democrats Respond to Trump Falsehoods on Ukraine," Sept. 25, 2019

United States Senate, Letter from Sens. Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy and Bob Menendez to Yuriy Lutsenko, May 4, 2018

Wikileaks, accessed Oct. 3, 2019

John Solomon on Twitter, Sept. 26, 2019

The Washington Post, "Rudy Giuliani accused me of exposing Paul Manafort’s Ukraine deals to help U.S. Democrats. That’s a lie," Sept. 21, 2019

The Washington Post, "Giuliani meets with former diplomat as he continues to press Ukraine inquiries," May 24, 2019

The New York Times, "Ukraine, Seeking U.S. Missiles, Halted Cooperation With Mueller Investigation," May 2, 2018

CNN, "First on CNN: Former DNC contractor denies working with Ukrainian officials on anti-Trump research," July 14, 2017

CNN, "DNC denies working with Ukrainian government, but contractor floated anti-Trump material," July 12, 2017

Kenneth Vogel on Twitter, July 12, 2017 

Alexandra Chalupa on Facebook, Jan. 11, 2017

Politico, "Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump backfire," Jan. 11, 2017

PolitiFact, "Trump said Democratic senators threatened Ukraine. That’s misleading," Sept. 27, 2019

PolitiFact, "Trump and Russia, Clinton and Ukraine: How do they compare?" July 12, 2017

PolitiFact, "The inaccurate or unproven things Rudy Giuliani said about Ukraine on 'This Week,'" Oct. 2, 2019

Email interview with David Carle, spokesperson for Sen. Patrick Leahy, Oct. 1, 2019

Email interview with Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, Oct. 2, 2019

Email interview with Andrew Kolvet, spokesperson for Charlie Kirk, Oct. 2, 2019

Phone interview with John Herbst, director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council and the former U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan and Ukraine, Oct. 3, 2019

Email correspondence with Eric Schultz, spokesperson for Barack Obama, Oct. 3, 2019

Email interview with Steven Pifer, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Oct. 3, 2019

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