Just a day after the Trump administration’s former top Russian expert testifying in an impeachment hearing took GOP lawmakers to task for spreading “a fictional narrative” about Ukraine meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a new report revealed that senators and their aides recently were told by U.S. intelligence officials that the tale was part of a multiyear Russian disinformation campaign.
“The Russians have a particular vested interest in putting Ukraine, Ukrainian leaders in a very bad light,” Fiona Hill, a former White House adviser on Russia, said Thursday. “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.”
Hill said the narrative could cause harm to the U.S. and give Russia a foothold in next year’s election. “Right now, Russia's security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election. We are running out of time to stop them,” Hill said, asking lawmakers to avoid promoting “politically derivative falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests” during the impeachment probe.
Her blunt assessment came nearly a week after other witnesses such as former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, National Security Council Director of European Affairs Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland painted a picture of a president pressuring the new Ukraine president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, for dirt on political rival Joe Biden by withholding aid.
President Trump and his Congressional supporters have repeatedly raised the specter of Ukraine interfering in the 2016 election. But diplomats and officials testifying during the impeachment hearings have dismissed that notion – and allegations that Biden while vice president pressured Ukraine to dump a prosecutor to shield his son, Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company – as false, citing an IC assessment released in 2017 that pinned election interference on Russia.
Vindman, who testified before the panel earlier in the week, referred to the tale as "a Russian narrative that President Putin has promoted." That’s what the intelligence community recently told senators and their aides, detailing Russia’s long-term initiative to finger Ukraine as the culprit behind 2016 election meddling by using a network of intelligence officers and prominent Russians and Ukrainians to spread disinformation to politicians and journalists, according to a Friday report in the New York Times.
Earlier in the day the president and GOP lawmakers seemed to double down on the Ukraine narrative with Trump telling the hosts of Fox & Friends that Ukraine was hiding a server that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) turned over to CrowdStrike, which the president incorrectly referred to as a Ukrainian company. "They have the server, right, from the DNC, Democratic National Committee,” said Trump. “They gave the server to CrowdStrike or whatever it's called, which is a country — 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 this whole thing. Why did they give it to a Ukrainian company?"
The president also had referenced a server and CrowdStrike in the July 25 phone call with Zelensky at the heart of the impeachment hearings, presumably referring to the server that the company examined as part of its investigation into Russia’s hack of the DNC during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.
The intelligence community has been united in its assessment that Russia was behind the DNC hack and a widespread influence campaign aimed at benefiting the Trump campaign. And former Special Counsel Robert Mueller laid out evidence of Russia’s initiative, indicting a number of people and organizations, including 12 GRU officers, in the caper.
Mueller’s probe bore fruit again last week when a jury found longtime Trump confidante and campaign adviser Roger Stone guilty on seven charges, including of lying to Congress and obstruction regarding his communications with the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks.