Yes, the fact that President Donald Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden during a July phone call is a biggedy-big deal. But it’s not the only totally bizarre – and inappropriate – thing that Trump did on that call.
Here’s the key passage – where Trump asks Zelensky for a “favor”:
“I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. 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.”
What is Trump talking about? Good question!
At issue is how US law enforcement handled the Democratic National Committee server, which was hacked by the Russians during the 2016 election. A company called Crowdstrike, which runs cybersecurity investigations for the US government, was called in by the DNC to handle the server. Eventually, the FBI looked at the imaged copies of the DNC server – essentially an electronic copy of everything that was on the server – as the feds conducted their own investigation.
The fact that the FBI didn’t look at the actual, physical server – although it was no different than the imaged copy created by Crowdstrike – has led some conspiracy theorists to suggest that the “real” server has been secreted away somewhere. LIke Ukraine! Why Ukraine? Because there is a rumor – a wrong one – circulating around the Internet that the founder of Crowdstrike is Ukrainian. He is not; he is a Russian-born American citizen.
(For much more on Crowdstrike, read this.)
What Trump was pushing then is this July call with the President of the Ukraine was – and is – a double debunked conspiracy theory based on his personal belief that something weird happened with the DNC’s physical server, which was never turned over to the FBI.
Don’t believe me? You should believe Tom Bossert, Trump’s first director of homeland security. Here’s Bossert on Sunday talking about Crowdstrike with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:
“It’s not only a conspiracy theory, it is completely debunked. You know, I – I don’t want to be glib about this matter, but last year retired former senator Judd Gregg wrote a piece in The Hill Magazine, saying the three ways or the five ways to impeach oneself. And the third way was to hire Rudy Giuliani. And at this point 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. United States government reached its conclusion on attributing to Russia the DNC hack in 2016 before it even communicated it to the FBI, long before the FBI ever knocked on the door at the DNC. So a server inside the DNC was not relevant to our determination to the attribution. It was made up front and beforehand. And so while servers can be important in some of the investigations that followed, it has nothing to do with the US government’s attribution of Russia of the DNC hack.”
The simple fact here is that Trump has never – and maybe will never – agree with both his intelligence community and the Mueller Report that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 US election to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. In Trump’s mind, acknowledging that fact – and, no matter what he thinks, it is a fact – is tantamount to admitting he didn’t win fair and square. And that is not something Trump is willing to do.
But even understanding where all of this comes from in Trump’s mind shouldn’t forgive or allow us to overlook what’s going on here: In a conversation with another foreign leader, the President of the United States asked for a “favor” tied to a repeatedly debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election. Which, it’s worth noting, he won!
While that conspiracy theorizing won’t have the long-lasting consequences on his presidency that his apparent pressure campaign on Zelensky to dig dirt on Biden will, it should be as concerning. A President who believes conspiracy theories is bad enough. One who asks for foreign leaders to investigate them is even worse.