Testifying in the House impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, former White House Russia adviser Fiona Hill criticized what she described as a “fictional narrative” about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Fox News -- particularly prime-time host Sean Hannity -- has been a key driver of this narrative, which Hill claimed “has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services.”
The fictional narrative described by Hill originated in 2017 in response to reports that Donald Trump Jr. seemingly welcomed information from the Russian government that could be used in his father’s campaign against former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, kicking off Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation. The false narrative claims Ukraine interfered on behalf of Clinton in the same way Russia was actually found to have interfered in the election.
This narrative is based on a 2017 Politico article that some right-wing media point to as proof of Ukrainian election interference. In reality, the article has been misinterpreted to support this false Ukraine narrative, and even Politico’s David Stern -- who co-wrote the 2017 article -- has explained that “what we said in the article is that we don't have, as far as we can see, the type of top-down and wide, broad attack on the American election that was being alleged” about the Russian government and the Trump campaign.
During her testimony, Hill called out Republicans’ fixation on the Ukrainian interference conspiracy theory throughout the hearings, saying that “some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country.” Ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) has asserted that Democrats “got campaign dirt from Ukrainians in the 2016 election” and “were heavily involved, working with Ukrainians, to dirty up the Trump campaign.”
As Hill pointed out, the debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the elections is a dangerous talking point which conveniently exonerates Russia of any wrongdoing. In her testimony, Hill said that she “refuse[s] to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary, and that Ukraine — not Russia — attacked us in 2016.” She also warned of potential Russian interference in 2020, saying that “Russia’s security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2016 election. We are running out of time to stop them.”
The fictional narrative surrounding Ukraine has been covered on Fox News since 2017, providing a useful counter to the barrage of Russia news that Trump faced during the special counsel investigation. Hannity in particular has been a primary driver of the narrative, using his prime-time Fox program to relentlessly claim that the “real collusion” during the 2016 election was between Clinton and Ukraine. As Media Matters’ Matt Gertz reported, Hannity “obsessed over purported ‘Ukrainian election collusion’ in a dozen monologues over the course of the summer of 2017, coverage that on at least one instance caught the eye of Trump.”