When Donald Trump appeared on Fox & Friends Friday morning to conduct 53 minutes of damage control, he offered every misdirection possible from impeachment, including the baseless notion that Ukraine somehow interfered in the 2016 elections in support of Democrats.
Rehashing a thoroughly eviscerated conspiracy theory that Democrats hacked themselves and covered it up with the help of Ukraine, Trump charged that the Democratic National Committee gave one of its servers to the "Ukrainian company" Crowdstrike (which is actually an American company based in California in real life).
Even his friendly Fox hosts appeared a little shellshocked. “Are you sure they did that? Are you sure they gave it to Ukraine?” Fox's Steve Doocy asked Trump, raising an eyebrow.
“Well, that’s what the word is,” Trump replied, resting his case.
But Trump's nod to Ukraine interference in the 2016 elections in support of Democrats isn't just any conspiracy theory, it's a Russian intelligence concoction specifically designed to confuse the public and divert attention from its own highly coordinated, well funded, and systematic attack on America's 2016 elections. It's a Russian-inspired mirage that was deployed repeatedly by Trump's GOP allies throughout the past couple weeks of impeachment hearings.
At the outset of the hearings, the ranking Republican member on the House Intelligence Committee, California Rep. Devin Nunes, framed the entire inquiry as a sequel to "the Russia hoax"—a Trumpian deceit suggesting the entire 2016 Russia meddling scandal was a lie. Nunes then repeatedly injected the hearings with an actual hoax, asking: “What is the full extent of Ukraine’s election meddling against the Trump campaign?” Heading into the final day of more than 30 hours of testimony from 12 witnesses that ultimately produced absolutely zero evidence of Ukrainian interference, Nunes declared, “President Trump had good reason to be wary of Ukrainian election meddling against his campaign." Assuming we survive as a republic, Nunes' pernicious musings—which read like textbook Soviet-era disinformation campaigns—will surely be studied by future generations who marvel that such obvious nonsense was ever spewed from the mouth of a sitting U.S. lawmaker.
One person who was particularly pleased with the GOP's 'Ukrainian meddling' fabrication: Russian President Vladimir Putin. At an economic forum in Moscow Wednesday, Putin thrilled over the "political battles" in Washington taking emphasis off Russia's attack on U.S. elections.
"Thank God, no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore; now they're accusing Ukraine." And by "they," Putin means Republicans, because they are the only ones baselessly accusing Ukraine of election meddling.
In fact, the Ukraine smear, as it were, was a diversion cooked up by Putin from the start. Not only did Putin first float the falsehood that Ukraine meddled during a press conference in February 2017, U.S. intelligence officials recently briefed U.S. senators and their aides about Russia's sustained campaign to finger Ukraine for 2016 interference. The New York Times writes:
In a briefing that closely aligned with Dr. Hill’s testimony, American intelligence officials informed senators and their aides in recent weeks that Russia had engaged in a yearslong campaign to essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow’s own hacking of the 2016 election, according to three American officials. The briefing came as Republicans stepped up their defenses of Mr. Trump in the Ukraine affair.
The revelations demonstrate Russia’s persistence in trying to sow discord among its adversaries — and show that the Kremlin apparently succeeded, as unfounded claims about Ukrainian interference seeped into Republican talking points. American intelligence agencies believe Moscow is likely to redouble its efforts as the 2020 presidential campaign intensifies. The classified briefing for senators also focused on Russia’s evolving influence tactics, including its growing ability to better disguise operations. (emphasis added)
That reporting posted Friday is especially disconcerting given another Times piece posted the same day about the GOP's strategy for an upcoming Senate trial, assuming Trump is impeached.
The White House and congressional Republicans allied with Mr. Trump are preparing for a Senate trial in which they will not only declare Mr. Trump’s innocence but also present a version of events that portray him as the victim of a broad plot to undermine his presidency even before it began.
That narrative will include claims that Ukrainians meddled in the 2016 election instead of the Russians — an unfounded allegation refuted by the administration’s own intelligence agencies as recently as this week — and that Hunter Biden, the younger son of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., used his father’s connections to make money in Ukraine. (emphasis added)
It was one thing for Trump’s House henchmen like Nunes to parrot Putin talking points from the dais during the impeachment hearings, it will be entirely another for GOP Senators to deploy Putin's handcrafted deceptions in defense of Trump during a Senate trial after being briefed on Russia's "yearslong campaign" to frame Ukraine.
As Joyce White Vance noted on MSNBC Friday, for public opinion to shift on this entire episode, it may take a greater realization about the bigger picture of Russia's manipulations rather than a focus on any single piece of evidence against Trump.
"The Soviet Union may have lost the cold war, but Putin has extracted a hell of a payback on us over the last couple of years trying to tear us apart, trying to manipulate us,” Vance observed.
What Trump did was undoubtedly impeachable and likely even criminal, but Republicans embracing Putin's destabilizing treachery in defense of Trump is downright treasonous.