The biggest mistake Democratic representatives made in the entire series of impeachment hearings is the failure to explain what Dr. Fiona Hill meant when she included this in her opening statement:
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.
Throughout the day, Republicans waved copies of Devin Nunes’ hastily produced Trump-exoneration report as proof that they did too believe that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election. This included some of the ugliest mansplaining of the entire inquiry, as one Republican after another thumped his chest and tutted over the ignorance of one of the nation’s top Russia experts.
But what Republicans did not say, and what Hill really meant, was that Donald Trump, William Barr, and every Republican on the committee are actively involved in an attempt to prove that Russia was not involved in 2016 election interference. Forget Nunes’ weak-tea report, because Republicans, Nunes included, are right now working to disprove that report themselves. What Hill was referring to was something that Trump discussed in his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Trump: 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.
The CrowdStrike conspiracy theory, which Trump put forward in his phone call, and which Republicans have been explicitly supporting in their questioning and statements, explicitly exonerates Vladimir Putin and shifts the blame for hacking the DNC … to Hillary Clinton.
On Friday morning, Trump rolled through an extended rant on Fox News (50 minutes of uninterrupted, uncorrected rambling that is still underway as of the writing of this article). In the midst of this rant, he returned to the same conspiracy theory, saying, “They gave the server to CrowdStrike. Why did they give it to a Ukrainian company?”
First, no one gave anyone a server. There is no missing server, there never was a missing server, because there never was a physical server. Like those of many, many other companies and organizations, the DNC’s email service was hosted by a third party. Second, CrowdStrike is not a Ukrainian company. In fact, CrowdStrike Holdings, Inc. is an American cybersecurity technology company with its headquarters in Sunnyvale, California. It’s one of the best known cybersecurity firms in the nation, and worked on cases such as the theft of materials from Sony studios long before it was called on to look into the break-in to DNC materials. CrowdStrike has also frequently worked with the government, the United States government, including in 2014 when it helped compile a series of efforts by Chinese hackers attempting to break into U.S. corporations. When DNC officials realized that their emails had been compromised, and that materials may have been stolen, CrowdStrike was the logical choice to conduct a thorough investigation.
The only connection between CrowdStrike and Ukraine previous to the emergence of a conspiracy theory that began boiling through the alt-right even before the election appears to be a report produced by CrowdStrike showing that Russian hackers may have compromised a program that Ukraine uses to target artillery in its ongoing war with Russia.
But when Trump or others on the right mention CrowdStrike, they’re not talking about the American company that is still out there, still working with companies and governments on cybersecurity. They are referring to a conspiracy theory in which: Hillary Clinton contracted with Ukrainian agents to pretend to be Russian hackers; these fake Russians then pretended to break into DNC servers and steal materials; CrowdStrike was called to cover the tracks of the Ukrainians; and the whole server was whisked away to make sure no one ever detected the scheme.
There is no evidence to support this theory,” because the whole thing is utterly ridiculous from the outset. Not only would it require more cloak-and-dagger action than ever filled a spy novel;, not only does it completely contradict the actual physical situation that was investigated by the FBI, among others; but the whole premise requires that Hillary Clinton be perfectly willing to have every item of dirty laundry at the DNC fed to WikiLeaks … all to create a trap that would ensnare Donald Trump. Years later. After he won.
Trump wasn’t asking for people to look into why someone wrote an op-ed he didn’t like, or said something nasty on a Facebook page, or any of the other items that Devin Nunes ran through again and again. None of that was at all related to what Trump demanded.
What Trump demanded, as was made clear on his call to Zelensky, was that Ukraine lend credence to the Crowdstrike conspiracy theory. Not only did Trump make that demand, but Nunes and others have been attempting to support that claim during the hearings. And that is why Dr. Hill made her statement about Republicans not believing in Russian interference: They are actively working, right now, in concert with Trump, to “prove” that there was no Russian interference. They are no longer willing to admit even the things they admitted in that report they’re still waving around.
Every single time someone mentioned “investigating the 2016 election,” what they really meant was “exonerating Vladimir Putin and shifting the blame to Hillary Clinton.” And while it’s understandable that no one wanted to use their five minutes to unwind this ridiculous “Hillary hacked herself and hid the server in Ukraine” theory that Attorney General William Barr is chasing around the world, not taking that time allowed Republicans to pretend that they’re not actively working to clear Russia as well as Trump. When they are. They really, really are.