A Key Impeachment Fact: Trump Pushed Russian Disinformation

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Article One of the Articles of Impeachment now pending before the Senate is primarily focused on President Trump’s extortionate demand that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky announce an investigation into the Bidens.

However, it should be kept well in mind by the House managers as they present their case on the Senate floor that Trump has also been impeached for improperly using the powers of his office to pressure Ukraine into investigating, in the words of Article One, “a discredited theory promoted by Russia’s disinformation machine, alleging that Ukraine — rather than Russia — interfered in the 2016 United States Presidential election.” 

Russian and right-wing media propaganda, and Trump himself, have wrongly claimed that CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity firm hired by the Democratic National Committee in 2016 to investigate the massive hack of its server, is “owned by a very rich Ukrainian” and is hiding evidence that could clear Russia of any wrongdoing in regards to the 2016 U.S. election.  In actuality, CrowdStrike is a U.S. company and its cofounder, Dmitri Alperovich, is a Russian-born U.S. citizen. This did not stop Trump from perpetuating this false narrative in his infamous July 25 call with Zelensky.

In this same phone call, Trump alludes to the hacked DNC server which, according to Russian disinformation, had been somehow spirited away to Ukraine, where it supposedly remains hidden from FBI and other investigators.

U.S. Intelligence agencies agree that this discredited theory, which deftly shifted blame for the cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system away from Russian and squarely onto Ukraine and CrowdStrike, originated as a Russian intelligence talking point before it gained traction in right-wing media outlets and, ultimately, in the White House. 

Ukraine could not give into Trump’s demands for an “investigation.” Announcing an investigation of a leading U.S. presidential contender would have been harmful to Zelensky’s reputation, and an investigation by Ukraine into its own government for U.S. election interference would have been crippling to the Zelensky administration. Furthermore, the Ukraine government well knew that once it gave in to Trump’s extortionate demands for announcement of these two bogus investigations, the demands and the extortion would not stop. 

If Trump succeeded in having the Ukraine government cave into his demands for these investigations in order to get their much-needed defense missile systems from the United States, the inevitable follow-up demand would be for a public announcement by Ukraine that they did, in fact, find that Joe and Hunter Biden had engaged in corrupt actions in Ukraine, and there would no doubt be ample Russian-supplied sources of “hard evidence” supporting this conclusion. Further “evidence” of Ukraine’s “interference” in the 2016 U.S. election could also be easily manufactured, no doubt coupled with a public apology to Russia by the Ukraine government for unfair blame placed on Russia.  

Given Ukraine’s extensive experience with predatory Russian practices, the Ukraine government strongly suspected that Putin and his U.S. crony in the White House were capable of neutering and ultimately dismantling Ukraine as an independent pro-Western democracy. Due to the fortuitous public disclosure of the whistleblower complaint and the ensuing impeachment investigation, Ukraine was not forced to subject itself to this destabilizing humiliation. However, Russia has still emerged as the clear winner, with both the U.S. and Ukrainian political worlds in confusion and disarray. 

The principal foreign policy objective of Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union has been to re-absorb Ukraine back into the Russian orbit. Russia is now poised to accomplish this objective. It could, for example, easily close off the Baltic Sea to Ukrainian shipping and ratchet up its military pressure in eastern Ukraine. As long as Trump is in the White House feeling thwarted by Ukraine, the country would not be able to count on credible U.S. support to counter this aggression. 

The U.S. is not safe from Russian aggression, either. Russian military hackers have recently been able to penetrate Burisma’s computer network in an apparent effort both to disrupt one of Ukraine’s largest natural gas companies (very publicly connected to Hunter Biden and the Ukraine-gate scandal), and to rummage around for some “dirt” on the Bidens. Make no mistake, the Russians will not hesitate to manipulate the 2020 U.S. election in the same way they did in 2016. They know U.S. election machinery in key swing states is vulnerable, and that many electronic voting machine systems in these states are fully hackable.

The Democratic leadership is understandably hesitant to call Trump’s abuse of power what it is: TREASON. However, the House has at least given its managers the tools to explain to the American people during the impeachment trial that Trump was not just crassly seeking to further his own political interests at the expense of U.S. national security interests, but that he was also trying to do Russia’s bidding while, at the same time, selling out the United States and one of its staunchest allies. The House managers must not ignore this crucial fact. 

Kenneth Foard McCallion is a former organized crime and counterintelligence expert with the U.S. Department of Justice, and has been counsel for former Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and numerous other Ukraine pro-democracy leaders and businessmen. He is the author of the recently published book, “Treason & Betrayal: The Rise and Fall of Individual.”

 



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