In a monumental display of right-wing gaslighting, Washington Post columnist Hugh Hewitt and Fox News contributor Mike Pompeo claimed Monday that former President Donald Trump had worked to strengthen Ukraine’s defenses against Russia — entirely leaving out Trump’s notorious political extortion plot, which Pompeo participated in and Hewitt ran media interference on leading to Trump’s first impeachment.
In 2019, Trump withheld military aid vital to Ukraine’s defense while pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch a bogus investigation against Trump’s political opponent, Joe Biden. The military aid was eventually delivered to Ukrainian forces to shore up their capacity to resist a Russian attack, following pressure from Congress, but the ensuing scandal stemming from this quid pro quo extortion plot was an international sensation. Trump was acquitted in his impeachment trial after his political and media allies argued that his behavior was not an abuse of office, an argument employed once the facts of the case — that Trump held hostage military aid for Ukraine’s defense against Russia — could no longer be disputed.
In the days since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, and military equipment provided by the United States became instrumental to Ukraine’s self-defense, right-wing media have attempted to paint an alternate reality in which Trump is cast as an opponent of Russian aggression and defender of Ukraine, despite Trump’s ongoing praise of Putin. Right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt and former Trump-appointed CIA Director and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, now a Fox News contributor and rumored presidential aspirant, provided a perfect example of this revisionism on Monday.
During an interview on Hewitt’s radio program, both men falsely proclaimed that the Trump administration had actually built up support for Ukraine, never acknowledging those previous events. The two men also erased their own personal histories: As then-Secretary of State, Pompeo had been in the loop on Trump’s extortion plot against Ukraine, while Hewitt ran interference for Trump in the media once it was exposed.
And, at the height of absurdity, Hewitt claimed that the U.S. Army had “slow-walked” an earlier sale of military aid to Ukraine, while never acknowledging the even more notorious instance in which Trump himself had done so.
In addition, while Hewitt and Pompeo focused on an earlier sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine in 2017, which were made during the term of Zelensky’s predecessor, that sale had itself been conditioned on storing the missiles in western Ukraine, away from the active conflict zone in the Donbas breakaway areas of the country near the Russian border.
Moreover, on the infamous phone call in July 2019, Zelensky told Trump that the country was “almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.” Trump then replied, “I would like you to do us a favor, though,” before making an inquiry related to false conspiracy theories about supposed Ukrainian involvement in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails in 2016. (The hacking was in fact committed by Russians, and on Putin’s orders.)
Pompeo admitted in October 2019 that he had been listening on the call when Trump attempted to pressure Zelensky. Further evidence piled up in November 2019, when impeachment witness Gordon Sondland, then Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, directly implicated Pompeo for having been aware of the quid pro quo arrangement on the military aid in exchange for an investigation of the Biden family by the Ukrainian government. Further documents also revealed that Pompeo had been in touch with Trump’s then-attorney Rudy Giuliani, who was conducting a shadow foreign policy effort in Ukraine.
Pompeo later became angry at NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly, when she asked him questions about Ukraine in January 2020. “He asked, ‘Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?’” said Kelly, describing an unrecorded conversation. “He used the F-word in that sentence and many others.” (Following the blow-up between Pompeo and Kelly, Trump publicly supported the idea of defunding NPR.)
For his part, Hewitt did everything he could to both deny that the extortion plot had taken place, and to totally excuse Trump’s actions even in the face of evidence. Following the September 2019 release of a whistleblower report against Trump regarding the Ukraine activities, Hewitt tweeted a “hot take” from an unnamed source claiming that the report was a “cover up” related to a vast conspiracy involving Biden, the Clintons, former President Barack Obama, and the investigation of Russia’s assistance to the Trump campaign in 2016.
After the contents of Trump’s July 2019 phone call with Zelensky were revealed, Hewitt called it a “nothingburger” and compared it to Al Capone’s vault, also denouncing the impeachment inquiry as a “coup attempt.” (On a side note, Hewitt later opposed the second impeachment over Trump’s actual coup attempt.)
Hewitt also falsely claimed in October 2019 that the military aid to Ukraine had not been delayed at all: “I have not seen a single document yet to prove that aid was ever delayed. But I'll wait and see that.” In fact, Politico had reported in August 2019 that Trump was “slow-walking” the Ukraine aid, even before the rest of the scandal had come to light.
At the same time, Hewitt defended Trump’s actions by claiming “we have often used American aid to leverage our demands on foreign governments in a thousand different ways” — comparing the manipulation of foreign military aid for domestic election purposes, and the targeting of a political opponent, to humanitarian goals such as Congress seeking to cut off arms sales to Saudi Arabia after that regime’s murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi: “Was that not the use of foreign aid to achieve a political end?”