Following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, right-wing media glossed over former President Donald Trump's history of withholding aid and repeating Russian President Vladimir Putin’s talking points to claim the invasion never would have happened under Trump’s administration.
On Wednesday, February 23, Putin announced that Russia was initiating what he called a “special military operation” in Ukraine and proceeded to launch a series of missile attacks near the capital. Over the next week, Ukrainian forces prevented Russia from taking any major population centers, while U.S. and European allies announced targeted sanctions against Russian banks and oligarchs.
During the annual Conservative Political Action Conference held in Orlando, Florida, on February 26, Trump gave a speech during which he said Putin is “smart” and “playing Biden like a drum and it’s not a pretty thing to watch.” Trump went on to baselessly claim that Putin “made his decision” to invade after watching “the pathetic withdrawal from Afghanistan.” Trump also praised himself as “the only president of the 21st century on whose watch Russia did not invade another country.”
Trump’s claims that his supposed support of Ukraine prevented a Russian invasion run contrary to the facts. In reality, Trump repeatedly demonized Ukraine, accusing the country of interfering with the 2016 presidential election — an apparent Russian talking point taken up by the Trump administration — and pushing his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to run a smear campaign against the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, leading to her dismissal.
Most notably, Trump froze military aid that Congress had appropriated to Ukraine and withheld a White House meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky until he promised to dig up dirt about Biden ahead of the 2020 elections, actions that resulted in Trump’s first impeachment. Even when his administration did provide military aid to Ukraine, such as when the U.S. sold Javelin missiles to the country in 2018 (a fact frequently cited by right-wing commentators in recent weeks), Trump himself actually opposed the actions until learning it could benefit America financially.
The right-wing figures conveniently overlooking these facts are often the same ones who ran interference for Trump each step of the way, stoking outrage over conspiracy theories involving Ukraine and decrying Trump’s first impeachment as a “show trial.” Now conservative media outlets are attempting to rewrite history to claim Trump prevented a Russian invasion rather than potentially weakening Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. Here is their rhetoric in action:
- During the February 28 edition of Fox News’ Hannity, Fox News contributor and former Trump White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany rhetorically asked, “Guess who did provide that lethal weaponry … ? It was President Trump that did that. He gave the Ukranians weaponry.” Later in the episode, Trump’s director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, said, “The question I am getting mostly here is, would this have happened in a Trump administration? And the answer is we know the answer. It didn't happen in a Trump administration because there was credible deterrence.”
- During the March 1 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, Fox News analyst Jack Keane said that Presidents Obama, Biden, and Trump all came to the same conclusion that the U.S. can’t go to war with Russia, but can “help Ukraine with everything we possibly can to defend themselves.”
- Right-wing media darling Glenn Greenwald falsely claimed Trump “flooded Ukraine with lethal arms” and said the narrative that the “GOP is pro-Russia” was “a complete fiction.”
- An article from right-wing website Twitchy criticized retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman for calling out Trump’s treatment of Ukraine and said “Trump sent Ukrainians weapons, Biden sent them blankets,” a reference to Trump’s comments at CPAC.
- On her February 25 show, Fox News host Laura Ingraham said that “we need a little contemporary history lesson” before noting that “four years ago Trump called out some of the biggest culprits in the entire crisis unfolding right now.” Conservative author Mike Pillsbury responded by noting that “President Trump approved 200 Javelin missiles to be sent to Ukraine,” saying it had “an enormous effect on slowing down the Russian invasion.” The segment made no mention of the many ways Trump interfered with Ukraine’s defense.
- During the February 27 edition of Fox & Friends Sunday, co-host Rachel Campos-Duffy claimed Russia invaded Ukraine because “we have allowed Russia to be empowered and enriched because of our energy policy.” She went on to insist that the invasion “needs to end now, and Donald Trump knows exactly what to do.”
- The Spectator's Stephen L. Miller tweeted that “none of this changes that Putin did not invade Ukraine when Trump was President.”
- An article from the website The Spectator World claimed that Trump, while discussing the conflict in Ukraine, “was able to convincingly make the case that things would’ve been different if he were in office.”
- Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce tweeted that “Trump-hating news and author celebutants” are missing “the point that under Trump this wouldn’t be happening at all.”
- During a February 28 interview with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt asked if he was satisfied with the amount of support the U.S. gave to Ukraine “as fast as we could” during Trump’s administration. Pompeo responded that he’s “proud of the work that we did” and that the U.S. did “remarkable world, important work.”