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Impeachment

His Strange Obsession: Trump Says Ukraine Did It

Here's what that's about

Here and there Donald Trump had wondered aloud about Ukraine's involvement in the 2016 election. In an April 2017 interview with The Associated Press, he began talking about the hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) a year earlier, asking why the FBI had not taken possession of the server. “They brought in another company that I hear is Ukrainian-based”, the president said. “CrowdStrike?” the surprised reporter asked, referring to the California cybersecurity company that did the investigative work to determine how Russian government hackers had broken into the server and stolen Democratic emails. “That’s what I heard”, Mr. Trump affirmed. “I heard it’s owned by a very rich Ukrainian; that’s what I heard.”

As early as October of 2016, Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence stated their confidence…

"that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts"

By three months later the CIA, FBI, and NSA concluded in a joint statement that…

"Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election… We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments."

The Mueller report, based on the forensic analysis of logs and the seemingly indecipherable Internet routings that we never see, would detail the activities of the Russian General Staff of the Armed Forces (GRU) and the cutouts they used such as Guccifer 2.0 to hack their way into servers of choice in the U.S.

In July of this year, the news media broke the story that the CIA was forced to extricate to the U.S. in 2017 a decades-long source who had risen to a position inside the Kremlin with access to the highest levels of the Russian government. The operative had supplied conclusive evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, confirming even that Vladimir Putin himself was behind the plot. That's how our agencies knew with such certainty.

But from go, Trump dismissed all U.S. intelligence agencies based on nothing and giving rise to suspicion that, given so many contacts between his campaign and transition staff and Russians, and Trump's irrational attempts to exonerate Russia, something must be amiss.

whodunit

Donald Trump never lets go of a fixation, but it was nevertheless something of a surprise to read in the July 25th phone call that he had gone so far as to ask the president of another country to investigate his quixotic conviction that Ukraine had messed with the U.S. election. He asks Volodymyr Zelenskyy,

"I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike... I guess you have one of your wealthy people... The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation."

Two ellipses show material has been left out, adding to incoherence, but it is clear that Trump has now gone all in, even believing that the DNC's server somehow wound up in Ukraine. That was supposedly to prevent FBI data forensics experts from determining the real hackers' identity.

Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney concurred, in the process admitting to funds held back pending a favor:

"He also mentioned to me the corruption related to the DNC server. Absolutely. No question about that. But that's it. That's why we held up the money."

“It is completely debunked”, said Thomas Bossert of Trump's theory of Ukraine manipulation in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week". Trump's first Homeland Security chief continued with…

"I am deeply frustrated with what he and the legal team is doing and repeating that debunked theory to the president. It sticks in his mind when he hears it over and over again, and for clarity here, George, let me just again repeat that it has no validity.”

Fiona Hill, a Russia expert who had worked in the White House, would underscore Bossert in the impeachment hearings, saying, "The Ukraine government did not interfere in the U.S. election, the Ukraine Special Services also did not interfere in our election" and cautioned Republican committee members whose questioning had tried to support Trump's Ukraine imaginings with…

"I am worried you are all going down a rabbit hole, you know, looking for things that are not going to be at all helpful to the American People or to our future election in 2020".

america's mayor goes abroad

Trump had several who had helped him acquire his notions. Bossert was surely referring to Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, when he said "legal team". Stephanopoulos had Mr. Giuliani on his show as well, where Mr. Mayor said that in November of 2016 he was given "shocking evidence"
Just after its revolution in 2014, political scientists from Dartmouth, Harvard, and Princeton asked 2,066 Americans to locate Ukraine on a map. Each dot is an individual's answer.

that the believed collusion with Russians had instead "happened in the Ukraine, and it happened with Hillary Clinton", whatever that meant. Inevitably we would hear that "George Soros was behind it; George Soros' company was funding it...I can prove it!", said Giuliani.

"There are affidavits to prove that they were colluding with the Ukrainians, conspiring with the Ukrainians. There is a specific person in the DNC who was designated to get this information. There are five Ukrainian witnesses under oath saying it that are online."

Among them, Mr. Giuliani had found Andriy Telizhenko, who alleges that Ukraine's government conspired with the DNC to damage Trump's prospects in 2016. Telizhenko said he's accused of being a Russian spy — says he's turned down offers of up to $10,000 from Russian media for interviews about Ukrainian election-meddling in the U.S. — and wants an investigation to clear his name. He'd found someone eager to propose what Giuliani said was "an investigation of serious crime committed in 2016 that did great damage to U.S. and Ukraine". In fact what he had found was clear evidence of Russia bribing to create a myth that Ukraine had done election tampering in the U.S. and not the Kremlin.

To disseminate his tale of conspiracy, Giuliani found a key conduit in American conservative media: reporter John Solomon at the political publication The Hill. Rudy said he hadn't been able to get anyone to pay attention to the information he had purportedly collected against the Bidens. The Justice Department wouldn't do anything. The State Department wouldn't listen to him. So he turned to Solomon to weave together the story of Ukrainians working to interfere in the U.S.in 2016.

Whatever Solomon wrote was picked up among the conspiratorially inclined — Limbaugh, Hannity, Levin, et al. — who would turn it into a new belief for Stepford Republicans such as Louisiana Senator John Kennedy. Even Fiona Hill, Mr. Trump’s former adviser on Russia and Europe, when asked how she first learned of Mr. Giuliani’s interest in Ukraine, replied, in part, “John Solomon”. About Solomon, one witness testified to Congress that he could not recall a single thing that was correct in one of Mr. Solomon’s stories, other than “His grammar might have been right.”

The primary source that Rudy provided to Solomon was the top prosecutor in Ukraine, known to be corrupt and now under criminal investigation — Viktor Shokin. Giuliani's associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, arrested at Dulles International Airport on charges of making illegal campaign contributions, were awaiting a flight to Vienna, where they had arranged for Fox News host Sean Hannity to interview Mr. Shokin. Giuliani was planning to join them the next day, he said in an interview.

Ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes has met with Shokin as well. Parnas helped the congressman arrange meetings in Europe. A worshipful Trump follower with nothing to show for it, Nunes went last December with three aides on a mission to learn what he could from Shokin about the Bidens and Ukraine interference in the 2016 election, a four-day trip with the $63,000 bill sent to taxpayers. Nunes has been a member of a group that meets privately at the Trump International Hotel three times a week to discuss strategy, a group that includes Giuliani, Parnas, and Solomon.

At the end of November this year, The Washington Post learned that Giuliani had last January and again in February been in talks with another Ukraine prosecutor, the top prosecutor at the time, Yuriy Lutsenko. He had succeeded Shokin. On the president's behalf Giuliani was seeking Lutsenko's help in gathering "dirt" on the Bidens, but also what he could develop on Ukraine's attempt to influence the U.S. election. (Simultaneously, he was hoping to land a $200,000 contract for his company to help track down assets stolen from the Ukrainian government, but that's another story.)

but what about evidence?

In Sean Hannity, Trump has a nightly advocate propagating his alternate truth. Hannity frequently points us to a January 2017 Politico article that he says had the whole story even before Trump's inauguration. We need look no further, and Hannity probably counts on no one looking further, which we did, of course. The piece shows how loopy is the case claiming the large scale assault on the 2016 U.S. election was Ukrainian rather than Russian. Here's the story:

Politico tells at some length of lawyer and daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, Alexandra Chalupa, who when researching the ouster of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 came across someone linked to both the exiled leader and Russian oligarchs, an American named Paul Manafort. She began probing Manafort's Russia connection which drew some unwanted attention. Yahoo warned her that “state-sponsored actors” were trying to hack into her email account. Her and family cars were broken into and ransacked. A woman tried to break into her home at 1:30 one morning. Chalupa viewed these as typical intimidation methods used by who else but Russia.

She perceived a "Russia connection" in the Trump campaign, and when Manafort surfaced as an aide, she went to meet with officials in the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington to alert them to ties between Trump, Manafort, and Russia. Chalupa was consulting as well to the DNC. “They were coordinating an investigation with the Hillary team on Paul Manafort”, a political officer in the Ukrainian Embassy told Politico, "keeping it all quiet” but “the embassy worked very closely with” Chalupa.

That's what had ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes lobbying repeatedly in his remarks opening the daily impeachment hearings for Ms Chalupa to be called as a witness:

"[Democrats] got caught covering up for Alexandra Chalupa, a Democratic National Committee operative, who colluded with Ukrainian officials to smear the Trump campaign…and refusing to let Americans hear her testimony as a witness in these proceedings."

It's not clear how Nunes thinks Chalupa's testimony would translate into the hacking of servers, the downloads from WikiLeaks, the extensive infestation of social media, all of it coming from Ukraine and not Russia with Chalupa exposing it all.

Russia, though, has been at work all along trying to disprove its meddling in the U.S. election. Back in 2016 Manafort was already serving as what Russians call a "useful idiot", pushing the theory that Ukraine — not Russia — meddled in the election, according to documents from the Mueller investigation. America's president took Russia's side. Asked about it in Helsinki in July 2018 with President Putin at his side, Trump unforgettably assured us: "He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be".

Politico goes on to say that four days after Chalupa's embassy visit, Manafort was hired by Donald Trump to run his campaign for the presidency. Two months later documents released by a Ukrainian government agency that came to be known as the "black ledger" showed $12.7 million in cash payments to Manafort by Yanukovych's Russia-aligned party. In a secret meeting with Vladimir Putin on the day after the Times report, ex-President Yanukovych admitted that he had authorized “substantial kickback payments to Manafort ...according to a series of memos reportedly compiled for Trump’s opponents by a former British intelligence agent", as Politico described in January 2017 what had not yet come to be referred to as the "Steele Dossier". The scrutiny around the ledgers — combined with that from other stories about his Ukraine work — proved too much, and Manafort was forced to quit his chairmanship

But the Clinton forces made the most of the Trump campaign's seeming links to Russia. As would Ukrainians. A Russian-aligned American president would be anathema to them, fighting to drive Russia out of the Donbas, as its eastern region is called. And there was word that at the Republican convention in Cleveland in the summer of 2016 an amendment had been scuttled that called for the U.S. to provide “lethal defensive weapons” for Ukraine to defend itself against the Russian incursion. Worried Ukraine officials joined the chorus that Trump was unfit for the office of president of the United States. They helped Clinton allies research damaging information of Trump and his campaign retinue. There were angry comments in the media and a call for Manafort to be investigated.

So you could say there was something to the claim that Ukraine had interfered in the U.S. election. But Politico said about Ukraine's election involvement that…

[T]hey 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…There’s little evidence of such a top-down effort by Ukraine".

That's the sum of what Sean Hannity tells us is the smoking gun proof found in a Politico article that it was Ukraine that subverted the American election, not the Kremlin.

Ministry of Truth

Donald Trump seems to believe that a lie endlessly repeated will come to be believed, at least by the faithful. Enough disinformation will persuade them that it was Ukrainian meddling favoring Hillary Clinton. Pay no attention that U.S. intelligence agencies found a marked tilt favoring Trump. The new truth means that no longer can anyone say Russian assistance helped him win the election. Look for Trump now to say that Hillary Clinton didn't win the popular vote. Those were illegitimate votes caused by Ukraine's favoring her.

Trump's obsession has won a lot of ridicule but he creates his own reality, so as recently as November 22, there he was on "Fox & Friends" saying,

"A lot of it had to do with they say Ukraine. You know it's very interesting, it's very interesting, they have the server, right? from the DNC, Democratic National Committee.

Brian Kilmeade: Who has the server?

Trump: The FBI went in and they told him, get out of here, you're not giving, we're not giving it to you. They gave the server to CrowdStrike or whatever it's called, which is a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian, and I still want to see that server. You know, the FBI's never gotten that server. That's a big part of the whole thing. Why did they give it to a Ukrainian company?

Steve Doucy: Are you sure they did that? Are you sure they gave it to the Ukraine?

Trump: Well, that's what the word is, and that's what I asked actually in my phone call. I mean, I asked it very point blank, because we're looking for corruption.

"Thank God no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections any more", Vladimir Putin said at a Moscow conference toward the end of November, "Now they're accusing Ukraine". House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had it right, pointing her finger at Trump at a White House meeting, saying that with Donald Trump "all roads seem to lead to Putin".

the Russians are coming

In the hearings there were actually those so ensnared in Trump-induced Stockholm Syndrome that Fiona Hill was disturbed enough to say,

"Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its Security Services did not conduct a campaign against our country and that perhaps, somehow for some reason, Ukraine did…This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian Security Services themselves…The impact of the successful 2016 Russian campaign remains evident today. Our nation is being torn apart. Truth is questioned. Our highly professional and expert career Foreign Service is being undermined. US support for Ukraine, which continues to face armed Russian aggression, has been politicized. The Russian government’s goal is to weaken our country, to diminish America’s global role and to neutralize a perceived US threat to Russian interests… I say this not as an alarmist, but as a realist… Right now, Russia’s Security Services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election. We’re running out of time to stop them. In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interest."

1 Comment for “His Strange Obsession: Trump Says Ukraine Did It”

  1. Who cares what other countries do, especially those bozos in Ukraine. Anyway, there’s not enough time in the day to read all this nonsense.

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