President Donald Trump, hitting back after a marathon week of public impeachment hearings, continued Friday to promote the debunked conspiracy that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, falsely claiming that "a Ukrainian company" is harboring a hacked server belonging to the Democratic National Committee.
During a nearly hourlong phone interview with "Fox & Friends," Trump defended his administration's freeze on military aid to Ukraine this year as well as his July 25 call with the Ukrainian president that prompted a whistleblower complaint, saying he was simply trying to root out corruption in the country.
"A lot of it had to do, they say, with Ukraine," he began, before alleging that the country has the DNC server that was hacked in 2016.
"The FBI went in and they told them get out of here, we’re not giving it to you. They gave the server to CrowdStrike ... which is a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian, and I still want to see that server,” Trump said of the DNC's actions upon learning that it had been hacked in the run-up to the election. "You know, the FBI has never gotten that server. That's a big part of this whole thing. Why did they give it to a Ukrainian company?"
Almost none of these claims are remotely true.
CrowdStrike is the California-based cybersecurity firm hired by the DNC to investigate a breach that turned out to be a Russian hack aimed at sowing discord and disrupting the U.S. election. It's not owned by a wealthy Ukrainian — it's publicly traded on the Nasdaq. Its largest shareholder is Warburg Pincus, a private equity firm with ties to Trump himself. One of CrowdStrike’s founders, Dmitri Alperovitch, is a Russian-born American citizen, which may be what Trump is getting at. But Alperovitch frequently consults with the U.S. government on cybersecurity, Esquire reported.
It is true that the FBI was not given the DNC's physical computer equipment, but there's no evidence that the Democratic Party held anything back from U.S. law enforcement investigating the breach. During investigations, it's common for physical servers to be digitally copied and preserved as evidence, as Robert Johnston, a cybersecurity expert who led the investigation into the DNC hack in 2016, explained to NBC News earlier this year.
There's also not just one server, as Trump seems to think. The DNC has said they decommissioned 140 servers and rebuilt 11, to be specific, related to 2016. One of them is on display at the DNC's office in Washington, next to a filing cabinet broken into by Watergate burglars, according to this 2016 photo in The New York Times.
With those claims, Trump made clear Friday that he is holding fast to the broader, debunked conspiracy that Ukraine was responsible for interfering in the 2016 election. Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, which is leading the impeachment inquiry, framed much of their questioning around this idea, so much so that Trump's former Russia expert, Fiona Hill, targeted it in her testimony Thursday for a thorough dismantling.
"Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country — and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves," Hill said. "In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests."
Hill, one of the foremost U.S. experts on Russian President Vladimir Putin, reiterated in public — as she had in her closed-door testimony — that she would refuse to be a part of "an alternative narrative" that Ukraine was the country that attacked the U.S. in 2016, because it boosts Russian and not American interests.
"These fictions are harmful even if they are deployed for purely domestic political purposes," she said.
The broader conspiracy of Ukraine election interference Trump hints at in his interview purports that the Democratic Party orchestrated, with that nation's help, the hacking of their own systems and framed Russia in order to discredit a Trump presidency.
The president has for years been alluding to this baseless theory — the origins of which NBC News’ Ben Collins traced back to far-right message boards as early as March 2017 — though he does not spell it out, perhaps because it's quite a stretch to suggest that Democrats ran a massive, international conspiracy to lose the election.
Behind closed doors, Trump has claimed Ukraine tried to stop him from winning.
Ukraine "tried to take me down," Trump said in a meeting with his advisers, according to the impeachment inquiry testimony of U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, and Kurt Volker, then-U.S. special envoy to Ukraine.
Despite being repeatedly dismissed by Trump's own intelligence community and advisers, the theory appears to have been a motivating factor behind the efforts of his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to run a highly unusual shadow policy team with the goal of pressuring the Ukrainian government to announce investigations into the 2016 election and Burisma Holdings — the Ukrainian gas company that Hunter Biden joined as a board member in 2014.
Fox News' Steve Doocy on Friday pressed the president on whether he was "sure" about the claims.
“Are you sure they did that? Are you sure they gave it to Ukraine?” he asked of the DNC server.
“Well, that’s what the word is," Trump said.
"That's what I asked actually in my phone call, if you know. I mean I asked it very point blank, because we’re looking for corruption. There’s tremendous corruption. We're looking for — why should we be giving hundreds of millions of dollars to countries when there’s this kind of corruption?”
The foreign aid to Ukraine that the Trump administration held up for 55 days is one aspect of the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry, as witnesses have alleged that there was an effort to condition the release of that aid on public assurances that Ukraine would launch the politically advantageous investigations Giuliani and Trump desired.