Trump's belief in a Ukraine-centered conspiracy theory led him to the actions that triggered the House impeachment inquiry.
Donald Trump's conspiracy theory that Ukrainian officials interfered in the 2016 election appears to be based on ideas promoted by former senior members of his campaign who have since been convicted of crimes.
Multiple American intelligence agencies have determined that Russia interfered with the election on Trump's behalf, hacking the Democratic National Committee's computers to uncover thousands of internal emails. Trump has again and again dismissed these conclusions, siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin over American law enforcement.
Instead, Trump has promoted the Ukraine conspiracy theory to deflect from concerns about his campaign, and he sent his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on expeditions to amplify that angle. The current impeachment inquiry in Congress could be said to stem from that disinformation campaign.
"[General Michael] Flynn was adamant the Russians did not carry out the hack," Richard Gates, a former Trump campaign official, told Mueller's office. FBI notes also indicate that Flynn told the agency that U.S. intelligence agencies were "not capable of figuring it out," referring to their conclusions about Russia's role.
Gates told investigators that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort claimed the hack "was likely carried out by the Ukrainians, not the Russians."
The FBI's files note that the storyline offered by Manafort and Flynn "parroted" a theory offered by Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian business associate of Manafort's who the FBI has stated has ties to Russian intelligence.
Flynn, who worked on Trump's campaign and was his first national security adviser, has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is awaiting sentencing.
Manafort was convicted of several federal crimes, including tax fraud, hiding money in a foreign bank account, and bank fraud. He is currently in federal prison.
In addition to Manafort and Flynn offering up the Ukraine-centered story to Trump, conveniently absolving Russia of culpability (with Trump's campaign benefitting), the tall tale has also been promoted incessantly by Fox News.
Fox primetime host Sean Hannity, who has been described as Trump's "shadow chief of staff" due to his close connection to the administration and constant communication with Trump, has repeatedly pushed the story on his show. It has also been featured on other Fox News broadcasts.
Instead of rejecting the tall tale, Trump has amplified the it — and used the office of the presidency to go even further by pressuring the Ukrainian government to unearth material that would purportedly damage his Democratic rivals.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.