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