Right-wing media cite Politico to revive Trump's Ukraine conspiracy theory. Here's why that doesn't work.

Conservative media figures are responding to former White House Russia adviser Fiona Hill’s testimony in Thursday’s impeachment inquiry hearing by trying to restore some credibility to another debunked conspiracy theory: the idea that Ukraine had tried to interfere against Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

Hill, previously an aide to Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, has been one of many witnesses to testify that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate not only Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden, but also conspiracy theories about the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (Indeed, it was one of the subjects Trump mentioned on his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.) Hill has also called this theory about Ukrainian election interference “a fiction,” and she added, “We should all be greatly concerned about what the Russians intend to do in 2020.”

The conspiracy theory relies heavily on a Politico article from January 2017, co-written by Ken Vogel and David Stern, which singled out Democratic consultant Alexandra Chalupa’s communications with the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington. 

Fox News chief political anchor Bret Baier even brought up this Politico story in trying to counter Hill’s testimony:

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Citation From the November 21, 2019, edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom

BRET BAIER (CHIEF POLITICAL ANCHOR): When there's this straw man, where she says in her opening statement, that someone on this committee, lawmakers, said that Russia did not interfere. There's no one on that committee who said Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election. But they also said Ukraine did, as well.

There are not-so-conservative outlets like The New York Times and Politico, who wrote big stories about Ukraine trying to interfere in the 2016 election. So all of that has to be in context as you get this kind of Q-and-A about this straw man argument that Russia was not involved.

Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer also read part of the Politico article while speaking to Fox contributor Andy McCarthy:

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Citation From the November 21, 2019, edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered

BILL HEMMER (ANCHOR): Google can be an amazing thing. And if you Google a Politico investigation, Andy [McCarthy], from January of 2017, this is what the headline reads. “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump backfire. Kyiv officials are scrambling to make amends with the president-elect after quietly working to boost Clinton.” That is before he was sworn in. So if you're wondering where President Trump gets the idea that Ukraine's meddling, there is an investigation that pops up on a very popular web site in Washington, D.C., that will tell you that. Now, if you just go to the second or third paragraph, government officials in Ukraine tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office, they disseminated documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption, and suggested they're investigating the matter, only to back away after the election. They helped Clinton's allies research damaging information on Trump and his advisers. Just a quick point on that, Andy, because this is going to be relevant to understand the entire context of the Republican argument when they resume.

Townhall Editor and Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich also promoted the allegation that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election:

Chalupa herself posted a reply to the Politico article back in January 2017, defending her conduct and the ethical behavior of the Ukrainian Embassy in contrast to Russian officials and discussing concerns about former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Many countries feared a Trump presidency for a variety of reasons. So did many Americans on both sides of the aisle. It would be understandable for Ukraine to be concerned given Trump's alliance with Putin and his hiring of Paul Manafort. Almost everyone in the Ukrainian-American community knew early on about the significance of Manafort's hire - his last successful campaign was working for a Putin-backed President of Ukraine who was overthrown, stole tens of billions of dollars from Ukraine, is now wanted for high treason, and currently lives comfortably in Moscow.

Chalupa also tweeted last week, as the House impeachment inquiry hearings were going on:

The Politico article also cited an embassy employee, Andrii Telizhenko, who has since become a fixture in right-wing media circles. But as BuzzFeed News recently reported, Telizhenko has formed his own political consultancy with links to Ukrainian oligarchs and a pro-Russian member of parliament. (Telizhenko himself denies being pro-Russian.)

After the Politico report came out, other media outlets went to work examining the allegations and found there wasn’t anything to them. The Washington Post reported in July 2017:

While the Politico story does detail apparent willingness among embassy staffers to help Chalupa and also more broadly documents ways in which Ukrainian officials appeared to prefer Clinton’s candidacy, what’s missing is evidence of a concerted effort driven by Kiev.

U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed his intelligence agencies to hack into and release private information from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. That effort included hackers from two different intelligence agencies which spent months inside the DNC network before releasing thousands of pages of documents to the public.


By contrast, Politico’s report details the work of one person who was researching Manafort with help from inside the Ukrainian Embassy and who, at some undetermined point, provided info to the Clinton campaign, though she worked for the DNC as a consultant until shortly before the party conventions. That, coupled with the Manafort ledger revelation, is the full scope of the Ukrainian plot that’s been revealed. A weak link to the Ukrainians and a weaker link to the Clinton campaign.

On the July 17, 2017, edition of CNN’s New Day, David Stern, co-author of the original Politico article, said the questions about the involvement of some Ukrainian elements were not equivalent to the many stories about Russian government actions in 2016.

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Citation From the July 17, 2017, edition of CNN’s New Day:

“But when you dig down into the details, they're very, very different,” Stern said, “and it's important to note the difference there. Now, we said in our article ... 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.”