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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Trump, Donald J" (Page 167)

The Trump Impeachment Inquiry: What Happened Today

Welcome to the Impeachment Briefing, a special edition of the Morning Briefing that explains the latest developments in the House impeachment inquiry against President Trump. Sign up here to get the briefing by email every weeknight.

I’m Noah Weiland, and I’m here to catch you up on the day’s news, along with insights from the Washington bureau, where I work, and the rest of the Times newsroom.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_162047649_59948475-0981-41d6-bc5a-41fa645d9935-articleLarge The Trump Impeachment Inquiry: What Happened Today Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry

President Trump speaking with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House today, as he headed to the presidential helicopter. CreditPete Marovich for The New York Times

  • The Times has learned that two of President Trump’s top envoys to Ukraine drafted a statement for the country’s new president in August that would have committed Ukraine to pursuing investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals. The effort is more evidence that Mr. Trump’s fixation with Ukraine drove senior diplomats to bend U.S. foreign policy to the president’s political agenda.

  • People familiar with the statement told our reporters that the envoys — Kurt Volker, of the State Department, and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union — believed that Rudolph Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, was “poisoning” his mind about Ukraine, and that a public commitment to investigate would encourage Mr. Trump to more fully support the new government there.

  • Mr. Volker was interviewed today as the first witness in the House impeachment inquiry. He disclosed a set of texts in which Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, told him and Mr. Sondland, “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” After speaking with Mr. Trump, Mr. Sondland messaged that there was no quid pro quo, adding, “I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.”

  • On the South Lawn of the White House this morning, Mr. Trump publicly called on China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden — flouting Democrats who are already investigating him for seeking electoral assistance from a foreign power in private.

  • The House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking her to suspend impeachment proceedings until she had answered questions about how she would include Republicans. The move is part of the G.O.P.’s nascent but aggressive impeachment defense of Mr. Trump. In a message sent to Republican lawmakers this morning, Mr. McCarthy accused Democrats of “trying to discredit democracy” and “undo the 2016 election.”


In his decades-long public life, Mr. Trump has continually said things that shock (“Russia, if you’re listening …”). But today’s open request for China to investigate his political adversary still felt like new territory. I talked to my colleague Maggie Haberman, who has covered Mr. Trump for many years in New York and Washington, about the significance of his statements.

Maggie, why would he just blurt out that he wants China to investigate the Bidens?

He clearly knows something a wise person once said to me, which is that the value of a secret is its ability to be disclosed. So he tries to move the window of acceptability by publicly doing the very thing he is accused of doing in private.

What is it about his circumstances that might encourage him to make a request like this out loud?

He has led a consequence-free life despite enormously self-destructive behaviors over time. The divorces were marriages he wanted out of. The bankruptcies impacted his lenders most, not him. All of his behavior in 2016 ended with him winning the presidency. And the Mueller obstruction inquiry ended with no definitive answer.

Does his request this morning remind you of anything?

The period of time that is the most illuminating happened after the “Access Hollywood” tape came out. The next day, I wrote a story about Mr. Trump holed up at Trump Tower. He came downstairs sometime after 4 p.m. and went and immersed himself in a crowd of supporters who were outside on the street, and pumped his fist. The next day, he went to the debate in St. Louis and paraded Bill Clinton’s accusers in front of Hillary Clinton. It was the most savage thing I had ever seen anyone do in politics. And it underscored what Mr. Trump does when he is wounded.


  • Ben Smith outlines what he sees as Mr. Trump’s retaliation structure in Buzzfeed News’s “The Stakes 2020” newsletter:

What Mr. Trump is doing, he writes, “has one purpose, which is to build an alternate scaffolding of lies, truths, and random facts for the Trump movement to hang on to when the big impeachment wave comes. You have your Ukraine accusations? Republicans will have their own Ukrainian narrative. You have Robert Mueller? We have Rudy Giuliani. And so on. Trump’s supporters on Capitol Hill mostly just need something to say, something to throw back in the faces of Trump’s accusers. He’s producing that narrative for them.”

  • Why do impeachment politics feel so personal? The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, released a new survey that shows close to half of Americans think of politics as a struggle between good and evil.

  • CNN rejected a pair of ads from Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign that derided the impeachment investigation, which the network said contained inaccuracies and unfairly attacked the network’s journalists.

  • The Washington Post put together a handy calendar to show what comes next in the impeachment investigation.

  • At an appearance at Amherst College this evening, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked by a student to characterize this moment in American history. “As an aberration,” she said.

  • This summer, after Mr. Trump said that he would be open to taking information from a foreign power, Ellen Weintraub, chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission, posted a statement to Twitter reminding him (indirectly) that taking anything election-related was against the law. She posted it again today and added, with a microphone emoji, “Is this thing on?”


I’m eager to know what you think of the newsletter, and what else you’d like to see here. Email your thoughts to briefing@nytimes.com.

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Treasury Officials Pressured I.R.S. on Trump Tax Audit, Whistle-Blower Alleges

Westlake Legal Group merlin_153556659_c3b20871-6070-4d98-9b9a-032db03717b4-facebookJumbo Treasury Officials Pressured I.R.S. on Trump Tax Audit, Whistle-Blower Alleges Whistle-Blowers United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Treasury Department Neal, Richard E Mnuchin, Steven T Internal Revenue Service House Committee on Ways and Means Federal Taxes (US) Ethics and Official Misconduct

WASHINGTON — An Internal Revenue Service whistle-blower filed a complaint alleging that senior Treasury officials tried to exert influence over the mandatory audit of President Trump’s tax returns, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The whistle-blower came forward to Congress in July with the complaint, which accuses political appointees in the Treasury Department of improperly involving themselves in the audit and putting pressure of some kind on senior officials in the I.R.S. Additional details about the specific allegations in the complaint remained unclear, including when the reported activity took place.

The allegation comes as Mr. Trump is locked in a legal battle with Congress, where House Democrats have sought to obtain six years’ worth of his personal and business tax returns. Mr. Mnuchin has refused a congressional request to release the returns and Mr. Trump has declined to release them despite decades of precedent that presidents make their tax information public.

In August, Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, the Democratic chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, alerted Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to the existence of the whistle-blower, who he said put forth “credible allegations of ‘evidence of possible misconduct’ — specifically, potential ‘inappropriate efforts to influence’ the mandatory audit program.”

“This is a grave charge that appreciably heightens the committee’s concerns about the absence of appropriate safeguards as part of the mandatory audit program and whether statutory codification of such program or other remedial, legislative measures are warranted,” Mr. Neal wrote.

Mr. Mnuchin, in a letter of response to Mr. Neal on Aug. 13, said he referred the matter to the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration. The Treasury Department declined to comment for this article. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The existence of the complaint received little attention after it came to light in August and has recently been overshadowed by a whistle-blower complaint involving a telephone call between Mr. Trump and the president of Ukraine. In that call, Mr. Trump called for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son’s business in the country.

The person familiar with the complaint, who has not personally reviewed it but is aware of its contents, said it did not directly implicate Mr. Mnuchin.

The Washington Post reported earlier on Thursday that the complaint implicated at least one Treasury Department political appointee and interviewed the whistle-blower.

The Treasury secretary, who is one of Mr. Trump’s closest aides, has said House Democrats are attempting to weaponize the I.R.S. by trying to obtain the president’s returns, and his department has argued that the request for the returns lacks a legitimate legislative purpose. House Democrats have made the request on the basis that they want to review the mandatory audit process that the I.R.S. undertakes to examine presidential returns.

Evidence of political interference in the audit process could buttress the argument that Congress should have access to the president’s returns.

George Hartmann, a spokesman for Senator Charles E. Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said, “We don’t discuss confidential whistle-blower communications, including whether they exist, unless a whistle-blower requests otherwise.”

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, said the complaint was cause for concern and warranted additional investigation.

“It would be negligent for the Finance Committee to fail to investigate a whistle-blower’s allegations of political interference in the presidential and vice-presidential audit process,” Mr. Wyden said in a statement. “A bipartisan committee effort to get to the bottom of this should have been started months ago.”

A spokesman for Mr. Neal declined to comment.

John A. Koskinen, who retired as I.R.S. commissioner in late 2017, said an attempt to intervene in the audit of any taxpayer would be highly inappropriate.

“It would be extraordinary for anybody outside the I.R.S., whether it be at Treasury or anywhere else, to get any outside information about an audit,” Mr. Koskinen said.

Mr. Koskinen said he never witnessed political interference relating to Mr. Trump’s returns while he was commissioner during the Trump administration.

He did note, however, that on one occasion Mr. Mnuchin asked him to make sure that the agency was doing everything possible to keep the president’s tax returns secure.

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Top Ukraine Diplomat Referenced ‘Crazy’ Plan to Withhold Aid for Political Gain

Westlake Legal Group 03dc-impeachment-facebookJumbo Top Ukraine Diplomat Referenced ‘Crazy’ Plan to Withhold Aid for Political Gain Yovanovitch, Marie L Volker, Kurt D United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry State Department Pompeo, Mike Pelosi, Nancy impeachment

WASHINGTON — The top Trump administration diplomat in Ukraine privately raised with colleagues last month what he described as a “crazy” plan to withhold security assistance “for help with a political campaign,” according to texts reviewed on Thursday by congressional investigators leading the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

The text, which was turned over to three congressional committees by Kurt D. Volker, the State Department’s former special envoy for Ukraine, is part of an exchange that appears to show a dispute among American diplomats over whether the president was trying to use security aid as leverage to pressure Ukraine to dig up dirt on a leading political rival — a charge at the heart of the impeachment investigation.

The message, written by William B. Taylor Jr., the top American diplomat in Ukraine, suggested that Mr. Trump was holding back a $391 million package of military aid to Ukraine as a bargaining chip to influence the country’s president to do his political bidding.

“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Mr. Taylor wrote in the message, which was exchanged with Mr. Volker and Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, according to people who reviewed it and insisted on anonymity to describe it. The text exchange was first reported by Fox News.

But Mr. Sondland took issue with that interpretation, writing in response, “The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind.” He then suggested the conversation move to phone rather than text.

The exchange emerged as congressional investigators met privately for more than nine hours on Capitol Hill with Mr. Volker, who is the first witness in their growing impeachment inquiry into whether Mr. Trump tried to bend American policy for his own political benefit, by pressuring President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats.

While the president has openly admitted that he wanted Mr. Zelensky to investigate Mr. Biden and his son Hunter Biden, a crucial question has been whether Mr. Trump tried to use the security aid as leverage. The money was delayed until the Trump administration released it last month amid a bipartisan outcry from lawmakers.

In his text, Mr. Sondland added, “The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign.”

It was not immediately clear what led Mr. Taylor to conclude that Mr. Trump was withholding aid as leverage over Ukraine. When the texts were sent in early September, news reports about the delay in releasing the aid, and about attempts by Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to pressure Ukraine into investigating Mr. Biden and other Democrats, had already prompted public speculation that Mr. Trump was engaging in a quid pro quo.

Attempts to reach Mr. Taylor on Thursday were unsuccessful.

Mr. Volker, a former ambassador to NATO, has not been accused of directly taking part in Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine. But he appears to have been caught up in efforts by the president and Mr. Giuliani to enlist Ukrainian leaders to unearth damaging information about his rivals.

Mr. Volker’s name appears several times in an anonymous C.I.A. whistle-blower complaint that set off the impeachment inquiry, and Mr. Giuliani has said publicly he briefed Mr. Volker on his efforts. The complaint centers on a July call Mr. Trump had with Mr. Zelensky, in which he pressed him to investigate Mr. Biden, and asserts that Mr. Volker advised the Ukrainians on how to “navigate” Mr. Trump’s demands.

Investigators for the House Intelligence Committee wanted to know what Mr. Volker knew, and when, about Mr. Giuliani’s work in Ukraine, the president’s decision to withhold the security assistance from the country at the same time he was pressing for the investigations of Democrats, and the Trump administration’s decision to recall Marie L. Yovanovitch, the former United States ambassador to Ukraine who was targeted by the president and Mr. Giuliani for ostensibly being insufficiently loyal.

Another key avenue of inquiry for investigators on Thursday was the American delegation that visited Kiev for Mr. Zelensky’s inauguration, which included Mr. Volker; Mr. Sondland; Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin; and Rick Perry, the energy secretary. House investigators also had questions about the message the officials delivered to the new government.

The interview, which Mr. Volker participated in voluntarily, took place out of public view. The text exchange was part of a trove of more than 60 pages of documents, many of them texts, that Mr. Volker provided before he arrived.

Mr. Volker resigned on Friday from his part-time, unpaid State Department post without public explanation. A person familiar with his thinking said the longtime diplomat concluded he could no longer be effective in the post in light of the unfolding scandal. But the resignation also freed him to appear before the House investigators without restrictions, according to people familiar with his account.

As special envoy for Ukraine, Mr. Volker was a central figure in the administration’s diplomacy with the country. He has told colleagues that he was not involved in the pressure campaign, and was only trying to prod the new president to stick to his campaign promises of fighting corruption, people familiar with his account said.

Mr. Volker has also told friends and colleagues that he believed that the Trump administration was withholding the aid to Ukraine because of generalized concerns about corruption, rather than to force a specific investigation of the Biden family, according to a person familiar with his account.

But Mr. Volker did know about Mr. Giuliani’s interest in having the Ukrainians investigate Mr. Biden, the person said. The two discussed it at a meeting that Mr. Giuliani has said took place in July, according to people familiar with his account. On Thursday, Mr. Volker told congressional investigators that he had informed Mr. Giuliani he considered the allegations against the Bidens to be baseless, people familiar with his testimony said.

The whistle-blower’s complaint says that a day after Mr. Trump spoke with Mr. Zelensky in July, Mr. Volker and Mr. Sondland met with Mr. Zelensky and other political figures in person. The whistle-blower said that multiple American officials told him the two Americans gave “advice” to the Ukrainians “about how to navigate the demands that the president had made of Mr. Zelensky.”

The complaint also says that the two men had tried to “contain the damage” to American national security posed by the scheme.

Even before the first interview began, Republicans were raising complaints about the fairness of the investigative process. Representative Michael T. McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote to its chairman on Wednesday protesting that committee staff would not be allowed to ask questions during the depositions and that Republicans had been given fewer slots than Democrats. Democrats said Mr. McCaul’s complaint about partisan parity was unfounded, and that Republicans and Democrats would be represented Thursday in equal numbers.

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the top House Republican, wrote to Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday requesting she “suspend” the impeachment investigation “until transparent and equitable rules and procedures are established to govern the inquiry, as is customary.”

Democrats are deviating from recent historical precedent for presidential impeachment proceedings. When the House conducted impeachment inquiries of Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton, the full chamber held votes to authorize the inquiries. And the majority party established rules meant to clearly govern their work and give the president substantial due process.

This time, Ms. Pelosi and her team believe no House vote is necessary and do not intend to take one. And they have said little publicly about how they expect the investigation to play out, or what procedures will govern it. Mr. McCarthy demanded she offer an outline, and said that any deviation from past precedent would be unfair to the president and would “create a process completely devoid of any merit or legitimacy.”

For now, though, Democrats are pushing forward with haste, issuing near-daily requests or subpoenas for documentary evidence and witness testimony.

The session with Mr. Volker was the first in what is expected to be a fast-paced series of interviews in the coming weeks, when Democrats aim to bring a parade of witnesses behind closed doors for questioning. Ms. Yovanovitch is expected to appear next week.

Other State Department diplomats, including Mr. Sondland, and associates of Mr. Giuliani’s are scheduled to participate, as well, but it remains to be seen whether they will appear voluntarily. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the committee this week that its requests were inappropriately aggressive and untenable.

Lara Jakes contributed reporting.

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CNN Rejects 2 Trump Campaign Ads, Citing Inaccuracies

Westlake Legal Group 03TRUMPAD-01-facebookJumbo CNN Rejects 2 Trump Campaign Ads, Citing Inaccuracies Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Shokin, Viktor Presidential Election of 2020 Political Advertising News and News Media CNN Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter

The 2020 campaign ad wars have begun.

CNN rejected a pair of provocative ads from President Trump’s re-election campaign on Thursday, saying the 30-second spots deriding the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry — one deeming the effort “nothing short of a coup” — contained inaccuracies and unfairly attacked the network’s journalists.

It is unusual but not unprecedented for television networks to reject a political advertisement from a presidential candidate. On the eve of last year’s midterm elections, major channels, including Fox News, removed a commercial from Mr. Trump’s political team that portrayed immigrants as a violent threat.

But political ads tend to be contentious in the latter stages of a campaign — not 13 months before Election Day. And CNN’s decision could foreshadow a longer conflict between Mr. Trump’s political aides and network executives who are tasked with reviewing the accuracy of the information that reaches viewers.

The Trump ads were recently posted online as part of what the campaign said was a multimillion-dollar advertising buy on national cable stations and digital platforms. One, “Biden Corruption,” repeats unsubstantiated allegations about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s activities in Ukraine.

“Joe Biden promised Ukraine $1 billion if they fired the prosecutor investigating his son’s company,” a narrator intones over grainy footage of Mr. Biden, a leading Democratic presidential candidate. After referring to Democrats in general, the narrator adds, “And their media lap dogs fall in line,” as clips are shown of the CNN anchors Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo and the network’s chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. The MSNBC host Rachel Maddow appears as well.

No evidence has surfaced that Mr. Biden intentionally tried to help his son Hunter Biden by pushing for the dismissal of the Ukrainian prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin. Members of the Obama administration, as well as other international leaders, had sought Mr. Shokin’s removal amid accusations that he ignored corruption claims. Mr. Shokin was voted out by the Ukrainian Parliament in 2016.

[Read about the issues behind the impeachment inquiry here.]

CNN said in a statement on Thursday that the commercial failed to meet its advertising standards. “In addition to disparaging CNN and its journalists, the ad makes assertions that have been proven demonstrably false by various news outlets, including CNN,” a network spokesman said.

Tim Murtaugh, the communications director for Mr. Trump’s campaign, responded that the ad was “entirely accurate and was reviewed by counsel.”

“CNN spends all day protecting Joe Biden in their programming,” Mr. Murtaugh wrote in a statement. “So it’s not surprising that they’re shielding him from truthful advertising, too.”

Later, CNN said it had also rejected another Trump ad, “Coup,” which presents the impeachment inquiry as an effort “to undo the election, regardless of facts,” and accuses House Democrats of “fabricating evidence.”

“The ad contains assertions of fact about the whistle-blower complaint that have been refuted by the Intelligence inspector general,” CNN said. “In addition, it is inaccurate to use the word ‘coup’ to describe a constitutionally prescribed legal process.”

[Read more about “coup” claims used by Mr. Trump’s supporters.]

The moves by CNN are likely to inflame longstanding tensions between the news channel and the president, who denounced the network at multiple public appearances this week. At a White House news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Trump called CNN staff members “corrupt people.”

CNN said it had agreed to carry a third commercial submitted by the Trump campaign, which focuses on the president’s accomplishments in office.

Mr. Trump has said his request for help digging into the Bidens was legitimate and part of a “perfect” phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. On Thursday, Mr. Trump publicly asked China to investigate the former vice president.

The impeachment inquiry has spurred a surge in campaign spending since it was announced on Sept. 24. Need to Impeach, a group founded and funded mainly by the billionaire Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer, said this week that it planned to spend $3.1 million on television and digital ads urging Republican senators to remove Mr. Trump.

The Trump campaign has spent more than $1.6 million to advertise on Mr. Trump’s Facebook page in the past seven days, including as much as $21,000 on the “Biden Corruption” ad, according to the platform’s ad library. Facebook does not fact-check speech from politicians, generally allowing it on the platform “even when it would otherwise break our normal content rules,” Nick Clegg, a Facebook executive and former British deputy prime minister, said in Washington last week.

But Daniel Wessel, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said on Thursday that Facebook should monitor and remove all false ads, including “Biden Corruption.”

“Facebook owes that to its readers,” Mr. Wessel said. “We all have a role to play in combating these lies, and that includes Facebook.”

Mr. Biden’s team weighed in, as well. In a formal letter on Thursday, his campaign manager, Greg Schultz, urged Fox News to reject the Trump campaign’s ad, saying it contained “false, definitively debunked conspiracy theories.”

“We are putting you on notice about the absolute falsity of the advertisement’s claims,” Mr. Schultz wrote.

Fox News responded in a statement: “We are not in the business of censoring ads from candidates on either side of the aisle. Vice President Joe Biden has a standing invitation to appear on any of our platforms.”

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Trump Envoys Pushed Ukraine to Commit to Investigations

Westlake Legal Group 03diplo-facebookJumbo Trump Envoys Pushed Ukraine to Commit to Investigations Zelensky, Volodymyr Volker, Kurt D United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Giuliani, Rudolph W Burisma Holdings Ltd Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter

WASHINGTON — Two of President Trump’s top envoys to Ukraine drafted a statement for the country’s new president in August that would have committed Ukraine to pursuing investigations sought by Mr. Trump into his political rivals, three people briefed on the effort said.

The drafting of the statement marks new evidence of how Mr. Trump’s fixation with Ukraine began driving senior diplomats to bend American foreign policy to the president’s political agenda in the weeks after the July 25 call between the two leaders.

The statement was drafted by Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt D. Volker, then the State Department’s envoy to Ukraine, according to the three people who have been briefed on it.

Mr. Volker spent Thursday on Capitol Hill being questioned by House investigators as Democrats pursued their impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump’s actions. He disclosed a set of texts in September in which Bill Taylor, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, alluded to Mr. Trump’s decision earlier in the summer to freeze a military aid package to the country. He told Mr. Sondland and Mr. Volker: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

After speaking with Mr. Trump, Mr. Sondland texted back that there was no quid pro quo, adding, “I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.”

It was not clear if the statement drafted in August by Mr. Sondland and Mr. Volker came up in the closed-door session on Capitol Hill.

The statement was written with the awareness of a top aide to the Ukrainian president, as well as Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and the de facto leader of a shadow campaign to push the Ukrainians to press ahead with investigations that could be of political benefit to Mr. Trump, according to one of the people briefed on it.

The statement would have committed Ukraine to investigating the energy company Burisma, which had employed Hunter Biden, the younger son of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. And it would have called for the Ukrainian government to look into what Mr. Trump and his allies believe was interference by Ukrainians in the 2016 election in the United States to benefit Hillary Clinton.

The idea behind the statement was to break the Ukrainians of their habit of promising American diplomats and leaders behind closed doors that they would look into matters and never follow through.

It is unclear if the statement was delivered to Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, but no statement was released publicly under his name. Around that time, the Ukrainian officials indicated to the Americans that they wanted to avoid becoming more deeply enmeshed in American politics.

The drafting of the statement, which came in the weeks after the July 25 phone call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky, was an effort to pacify Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani and normalize relations between the two countries as Ukraine faced continuing conflict with Russia. Mr. Sondland and Mr. Volker believed that Mr. Giuliani was “poisoning” Mr. Trump’s mind about Ukraine and that eliciting a public commitment from Mr. Zelensky to pursue the investigations would induce Mr. Trump to more fully support the new Ukrainian government, according to the people familiar with it.

Mr. Giuliani said he was aware of the statement but that it was not written at his behest. He said the statement would include a commitment to investigations of Burisma and the circumstances around the 2016 election.

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How a Fringe Theory About Ukraine Took Root in the White House

Westlake Legal Group 03conspiracy-01-facebookJumbo How a Fringe Theory About Ukraine Took Root in the White House Zelensky, Volodymyr Yovanovitch, Marie L United States Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia Rumors and Misinformation Reddit Inc Presidential Election of 2016 Mueller, Robert S III Giuliani, Rudolph W Federal Bureau of Investigation Facebook Inc Democratic Party democratic national committee Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Cyberwarfare and Defense CrowdStrike Inc Clinton, Hillary Rodham Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter Atlantic Council 4chan

In an April 2017 interview with The Associated Press, President Trump suddenly began talking about the hack of the Democratic National Committee a year earlier, complaining that the F.B.I. had not physically examined the compromised server.

“They brought in another company that I hear is Ukrainian-based,” the president said.

“CrowdStrike?” the surprised reporter asked, referring to the California cybersecurity company that investigated how Russian government hackers had stolen and leaked Democratic emails, disrupting Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

“That’s what I heard,” Mr. Trump resumed. “I heard it’s owned by a very rich Ukrainian; that’s what I heard.”

More than two years later, Mr. Trump was still holding on to this false conspiracy theory. In his July call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, he summed it up in a sort of shorthand — at least according to the White House memorandum, labeled “not a verbatim transcript.”

“I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people …,” the president said. It is unclear whether the ellipses indicate that words were omitted or that Mr. Trump’s voice was trailing off.

Then he added one novel detail: “The server, they say Ukraine has it.”

Now, Mr. Trump’s call for Ukraine to look into his CrowdStrike story forms the background to the House impeachment inquiry, which is focused on the second request he made: that Mr. Zelensky investigate Mr. Trump’s possible 2020 opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Mr. Trump has placed a concoction of disprovable claims, of the kind usually found on the fringes of the web, squarely in the middle of American politics and diplomacy.

The tale of the supposedly hidden server may have appealed to Mr. Trump because it undercut a well-established fact that he has resented and resisted for three years: The Russian government interfered in the 2016 election to help him win, an effort thoroughly documented by American intelligence agencies and amply supported by public evidence.

By contrast, there is no evidence to support the president’s vague suggestion that Ukraine, not Russia, might be responsible for the hacking, or that CrowdStrike somehow connived in it. But his alternate history has provided a psychological shield for the president against facts that he believes tarnish his electoral victory.

Mr. Trump has long called for better relations with Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia and brushed aside complaints about its conduct. So there is a certain symmetry to his suggestion that Ukraine, Russia’s opponent and the victim of its territorial grab, may somehow have framed Russia for the 2016 election activity.

“Ukraine is the perfect scapegoat for him, because it’s the enemy of Russia,” said Nina Jankowicz, a fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington who regularly visits Ukraine and is writing a book called “How to Lose the Information War.”

She noted that a number of Ukraine-linked stories, some of them distorted or exaggerated, have been pulled together by Mr. Trump’s supporters into a single narrative.

For example, there is the idea, promoted by the president’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, that Ukraine’s government actively sabotaged Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign. A Ukrainian-American lawyer who consulted for the D.N.C. looked into the finances of Paul Manafort and spoke with Ukrainian embassy officials. But there appears to have been no organized Ukrainian government effort to intervene — certainly nothing comparable to the activities of Russian intelligence agencies ordered by Mr. Putin.

It is true that a Ukrainian legislator helped publicize documents on Mr. Manafort’s multimillion-dollar payments from a Ukrainian political party, leading to his resignation as Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman. But the claim of Mr. Manafort’s wrongdoing turned out to be justified. He is now serving seven and a half years in prison for financial fraud and other crimes.

In May, Mr. Trump recalled the American ambassador to Kiev, Marie L. Yovanovitch, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2016, telling others she was scheming against his administration. She has denied it.

And Mr. Trump has repeatedly charged that Mr. Biden, who handled Ukrainian affairs as vice president, tried to get a prosecutor fired for investigating a Ukrainian energy company that paid his son, Hunter, handsomely as a board member despite a lack of experience in Ukraine. In fact, multiple countries were pressing for the firing of the prosecutor, who they thought was turning a blind eye to corruption.

“Now it seems like all of these conspiracy theories are merging into one,” Ms. Jankowicz said. She studies disinformation, she said, but Mr. Trump produced one claim she’d never come across.

“I do this for a living, and I’d never heard anyone say the servers were in Ukraine,” she said.

Twitter removed a video posted by Mr. Trump that showed a meme of Nickelbacker’s lead singer, edited as an attack on Joe Biden.

In the 27 months between Mr. Trump’s two citations of the CrowdStrike-Ukraine conspiracy theory, it has survived despite many denials from CrowdStrike, the F.B.I. and people directly involved in the investigations. It has survived despite the fact that the D.N.C. put one of its hacked servers on display — not in Ukraine but in its Washington offices beside the filing cabinet pried open in 1972 by the Watergate burglars (and a photo of the two artifacts ran on The Times’s front page). It has survived despite the indictment prepared last year by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, laying out in extraordinary detail the actions of 12 named Russian military intelligence officers who hacked the D.N.C. and other election targets.

The speculation springs from what Mr. Trump has called a “big Dem scam” — the false notion that the F.B.I. never really investigated the D.N.C. hack. In fact, according to people directly involved, CrowdStrike was in regular contact with the bureau in spring 2016 as it examined dozens of servers used by both the D.N.C. and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

It is true, as Mr. Trump has often tweeted, that F.B.I. agents never took physical possession of the Democrats’ servers. But CrowdStrike supplied the F.B.I. with digital copies of the servers so that the bureau could assess the Russian malware infecting them. The Mueller investigation later confirmed CrowdStrike’s findings.

Still, the president has clung to the theory linking CrowdStrike, Ukraine and the D.N.C. servers despite the repeated efforts of his aides to dissuade him, Thomas Bossert, his former homeland security adviser, said on Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “The D.N.C. server and that conspiracy theory has got to go,” he said. “If he continues to focus on that white whale, it’s going to bring him down.”

To go in search of the roots of Mr. Trump’s CrowdStrike-Ukraine conspiracy theory is to travel the internet’s most peculiar provinces and the darkest threads on Twitter and Facebook. On 4chan and pro-Trump spaces on Reddit, on websites like ZeroHedge.com and Washington’s Blog, you can find plenty of speculation about evil manipulation by CrowdStrike and secret maneuvers by Ukrainians — often inflamed by Mr. Trump’s own statements.

Until the president’s statements, however, even internet speculation did not attribute CrowdStrike’s ownership to a rich Ukrainian or suggest that the D.N.C. servers were hidden in Ukraine.

George Eliason, an American journalist who lives in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists fought Ukrainian forces, has written extensively about what he considers to be a “coup attempt” against President Trump involving American and Ukrainian intelligence agencies and CrowdStrike. He said he did not know if his writings for obscure websites might have influenced the president.

“CrowdStrike and Ukrainian Intel are working hand in glove,” he wrote in an email. “Is Ukrainian Intelligence trying to invent a reason for the U.S. to take a hardline stance against Russia? Are they using CrowdStrike to carry this out?”

Mr. Eliason and other purveyors of Ukraine conspiracies often point to the Atlantic Council, a research group in Washington, as the locus of the schemes. The Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Pinchuk has made donations to the council and serves on its international advisory board; Dmitri Alperovitch, CrowdStrike’s co-founder, who was born in Russia and came to the United States as a child, is an Atlantic Council senior fellow.

That connection seems slender, but it may be the origin of Mr. Trump’s association of a wealthy Ukrainian with CrowdStrike.

Pro-Trump media leaped last week to defend the president’s Ukraine theories. Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show that Mr. Trump’s “reference to CrowdStrike, mark my words, is momentous,” though he did not say why.

And Russian state news outlets are always ready to cheer on Mr. Trump’s efforts to point the blame for the 2016 hack away from Moscow. On Sept. 25, after the White House released its memo on the Zelensky call, Russia’s Sputnik news website ran a story supporting Mr. Trump’s remarks.

The Sputnik article cited Mr. Eliason’s writings and suggested that CrowdStrike might have framed Russia for the D.N.C. hack — if it occurred at all. It quoted a Twitter account called “The Last Refuge” declaring: “The D.N.C. servers were never hacked.”

All this mythmaking about the 2016 hack frustrates Robert Johnston, who was the lead investigator for CrowdStrike on the D.N.C. inquiry. Mr. Johnston, a former Marine and Cyber Command operator, said he could make no sense of Mr. Trump’s assertions.

“It doesn’t connect with anything in my experience,” he said. “I’d be interested in the president of Ukraine’s impression.”

Mr. Johnston, now chief executive of the cybersecurity company Adlumin, said he was weary of the conspiracies surrounding what he considered a straightforward conclusion. Having seen the digital fingerprints of Russian intelligence in earlier hacking cases, he felt there was little doubt about the identity of the perpetrators.

“I don’t know how you get to this point,” Mr. Johnston said of the fantasies Mr. Trump has promoted. “This is a story that just won’t die.”

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CNN Rejects Two Trump Campaign Ads, Citing Inaccuracies

Westlake Legal Group 03TRUMPAD-01-facebookJumbo CNN Rejects Two Trump Campaign Ads, Citing Inaccuracies Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Shokin, Viktor Presidential Election of 2020 Political Advertising News and News Media CNN Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter

CNN rejected a pair of provocative ads from President Trump’s re-election campaign on Thursday, saying that the 30-second spots deriding the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry — one of which deemed the effort “nothing short of a coup” — contained inaccuracies and unfairly attacked the network’s journalists.

It is unusual but not unprecedented for television networks to reject a political advertisement from a presidential campaign. On the eve of last year’s midterm elections, major channels, including Fox News, removed an inflammatory commercial from Mr. Trump’s political team that portrayed immigrants as a violent threat.

The move by CNN is likely to inflame longstanding tensions between the news network and the president, who denounced CNN staff members as “corrupt people” during a White House news conference on Wednesday and criticized the network again on Thursday.

The Trump ads were posted online in recent days as part of what the president’s campaign said was a multimillion dollar advertising buy on national cable stations and digital platforms.

One ad, “Biden Corruption,” targets former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son, Hunter Biden, amid a widening impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. It repeats unsubstantiated allegations about the Bidens’ financial dealings in Ukraine and derides journalists, labeling them “media lap dogs” for the Democrats as footage plays of several CNN stars.

Over grainy footage of Joe Biden, a narrator intones that the leading Democratic presidential candidate “promised Ukraine $1 billion if they fired the prosecutor investigating his son’s company.” As video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plays, the narrator continues: “But when President Trump asks Ukraine to investigate corruption, the Democrats want to impeach him.”

The narrator adds, “and their media lap dogs fall in line,” over footage of the CNN anchors Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo and the network’s chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. The MSNBC host Rachel Maddow is featured as well.

No evidence has surfaced that Mr. Biden intentionally tried to help his son by pushing for the Ukrainian prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, to be dismissed. Members of the Obama administration, as well as other Western governments and international leaders, had sought Mr. Shokin’s removal amid accusations that he ignored corruption claims. Mr. Shokin was voted out by the Ukrainian Parliament in 2016.

[Read about the issues behind the impeachment inquiry here.]

CNN said in a statement on Thursday that the Biden-focused campaign commercial failed to meet the network’s advertising standards. “In addition to disparaging CNN and its journalists, the ad makes assertions that have been proven demonstrably false by various news outlets, including CNN,” a network spokesman said.

Tim Murtaugh, the communications director for Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign, responded on Thursday that the ad was “entirely accurate and was reviewed by counsel.”

“CNN spends all day protecting Joe Biden in their programming,” Mr. Murtaugh wrote. “So it’s not surprising that they’re shielding him from truthful advertising, too.”

Later, CNN said it had rejected another Trump ad, “Coup.” It presents the impeachment inquiry as an effort “to undo the election, regardless of facts” and accuses House Democrats of “fabricating evidence.”

“The ad contains assertions of fact about the whistleblower complaint that have been refuted by the Intelligence Inspector General,” CNN said in a statement. “In addition, it is inaccurate to use the word ‘coup’ to describe a constitutionally prescribed legal process.”

[Read more about ‘coup’ claims used by Mr. Trump’s supporters.]

Mr. Trump has said his request for help digging into the Bidens was legitimate and part of a “perfect” phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. On Thursday, Mr. Trump publicly asked China to investigate the former vice president.

The impeachment inquiry has spurred a surge in campaign spending since it was announced on Sept. 24. Need to Impeach, a group founded and mostly funded by the billionaire Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer, said this week that it plans to spend $3.1 million on television and digital ads urging Republican senators to remove Mr. Trump.

The Trump campaign has spent more than $1.6 million advertising on Mr. Trump’s Facebook page in the past seven days, including as much as $21,000 on the “Biden Corruption” ad, according to the platform’s ad library.

Facebook does not fact-check speech from politicians, generally allowing it on the platform “even when it would otherwise break our normal content rules,” Nick Clegg, a Facebook executive and Britain’s former deputy prime minister, said in Washington last week.

But Daniel Wessel, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said on Thursday that Facebook should monitor and remove all false ads, including “Biden Corruption.”

“Facebook owes that to its readers,” Mr. Wessel said on Thursday. “We all have a role to play in combating these lies, and that includes Facebook.”

Mr. Biden’s team weighed in, as well, urging Fox News to reject the Trump campaign’s ad. In a formal letter to the network, Mr. Biden’s campaign manager, Greg Schultz, said the ad contained “false, definitively debunked conspiracy theories.”

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How a Fringe Theory About CrowdStrike Took Root in the White House

In an April 2017 interview with The Associated Press, President Trump suddenly began talking about the hack of the Democratic National Committee a year earlier, complaining that the F.B.I. had not physically examined the compromised server.

“They brought in another company that I hear is Ukrainian-based,” the president said.

“CrowdStrike?” the surprised reporter asked, referring to the California cybersecurity company that investigated how Russian government hackers had stolen and leaked Democratic emails, disrupting Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

“That’s what I heard,” Mr. Trump resumed. “I heard it’s owned by a very rich Ukrainian; that’s what I heard.”

More than two years later, Mr. Trump was still holding on to this false conspiracy theory. In his July call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, he summed it up in a sort of shorthand — at least according to the White House memorandum, labeled “not a verbatim transcript.”

“I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people …,” the president said. It is unclear whether the ellipses indicate that words were omitted or that Mr. Trump’s voice was trailing off.

Then he added one novel detail: “The server, they say Ukraine has it.”

Now, Mr. Trump’s call for Ukraine to look into his CrowdStrike story forms the background to the House impeachment inquiry, which is focused on the second request he made: that Mr. Zelensky investigate Mr. Trump’s possible 2020 opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Mr. Trump has placed a concoction of disprovable claims, of the kind usually found on the fringes of the web, squarely in the middle of American politics and diplomacy.

The tale of the supposedly hidden server may have appealed to Mr. Trump because it undercut a well-established fact that he has resented and resisted for three years: The Russian government interfered in the 2016 election to help him win, an effort thoroughly documented by American intelligence agencies and amply supported by public evidence.

By contrast, there is no evidence to support the president’s vague suggestion that Ukraine, not Russia, might be responsible for the hacking, or that CrowdStrike somehow connived in it. But his alternate history has provided a psychological shield for the president against facts that he believes tarnish his electoral victory.

Mr. Trump has long called for better relations with Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia and brushed aside complaints about its conduct. So there is a certain symmetry to his suggestion that Ukraine, Russia’s opponent and the victim of its territorial grab, may somehow have framed Russia for the 2016 election activity.

“Ukraine is the perfect scapegoat for him, because it’s the enemy of Russia,” said Nina Jankowicz, a fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington who regularly visits Ukraine and is writing a book called “How to Lose the Information War.”

She noted that a number of Ukraine-linked stories, some of them distorted or exaggerated, have been pulled together by Mr. Trump’s supporters into a single narrative.

For example, there is the idea, promoted by the president’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, that Ukraine’s government actively sabotaged Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign. A Ukrainian-American lawyer who consulted for the D.N.C. looked into the finances of Paul Manafort and spoke with Ukrainian embassy officials. But there appears to have been no organized Ukrainian government effort to intervene — certainly nothing comparable to the activities of Russian intelligence agencies ordered by Mr. Putin.

It is true that a Ukrainian legislator helped publicize documents on Mr. Manafort’s multimillion-dollar payments from a Ukrainian political party, leading to his resignation as Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman. But the claim of Mr. Manafort’s wrongdoing turned out to be justified. He is now serving seven and a half years in prison for financial fraud and other crimes.

In May, Mr. Trump recalled the American ambassador to Kiev, Marie L. Yovanovitch, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2016, telling others she was scheming against his administration. She has denied it.

And Mr. Trump has repeatedly charged that Mr. Biden, who handled Ukrainian affairs as vice president, tried to get a prosecutor fired for investigating a Ukrainian energy company that paid his son, Hunter, handsomely as a board member despite a lack of experience in Ukraine. In fact, multiple countries were pressing for the firing of the prosecutor, who they thought was turning a blind eye to corruption.

“Now it seems like all of these conspiracy theories are merging into one,” Ms. Jankowicz said. She studies disinformation, she said, but Mr. Trump produced one claim she’d never come across.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_161614164_ab1b1ada-cb55-4a9c-8ffb-6c95b22c2b1e-articleLarge How a Fringe Theory About CrowdStrike Took Root in the White House Zelensky, Volodymyr Yovanovitch, Marie L United States Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia Rumors and Misinformation Reddit Inc Presidential Election of 2016 Mueller, Robert S III Giuliani, Rudolph W Federal Bureau of Investigation Facebook Inc Democratic Party democratic national committee Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Cyberwarfare and Defense CrowdStrike Inc Clinton, Hillary Rodham Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter Atlantic Council 4chan

The Democratic National Committee’s servers came under attack by Russian hackers in 2016.CreditPaul Holston/Associated Press

“I do this for a living, and I’d never heard anyone say the servers were in Ukraine,” she said.

In the 27 months between Mr. Trump’s two citations of the CrowdStrike-Ukraine conspiracy theory, it has survived despite many denials from CrowdStrike, the F.B.I. and people directly involved in the investigations. It has survived despite the fact that the D.N.C. put one of its hacked servers on display — not in Ukraine but in its Washington offices beside the filing cabinet pried open in 1972 by the Watergate burglars (and a photo of the two artifacts ran on The Times’s front page). It has survived despite the indictment prepared last year by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, laying out in extraordinary detail the actions of 12 named Russian military intelligence officers who hacked the D.N.C. and other election targets.

The speculation springs from what Mr. Trump has called a “big Dem scam” — the false notion that the F.B.I. never really investigated the D.N.C. hack. In fact, according to people directly involved, CrowdStrike was in regular contact with the bureau in spring 2016 as it examined dozens of servers used by both the D.N.C. and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

It is true, as Mr. Trump has often tweeted, that F.B.I. agents never took physical possession of the Democrats’ servers. But CrowdStrike supplied the F.B.I. with digital copies of the servers so that the bureau could assess the Russian malware infecting them. The Mueller investigation later confirmed CrowdStrike’s findings.

Still, the president has clung to the theory linking CrowdStrike, Ukraine and the D.N.C. servers despite the repeated efforts of his aides to dissuade him, Thomas Bossert, his former homeland security adviser, said on Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “The D.N.C. server and that conspiracy theory has got to go,” he said. “If he continues to focus on that white whale, it’s going to bring him down.”

To go in search of the roots of Mr. Trump’s CrowdStrike-Ukraine conspiracy theory is to travel the internet’s most peculiar provinces and the darkest threads on Twitter and Facebook. On 4chan and pro-Trump spaces on Reddit, on websites like ZeroHedge.com and Washington’s Blog, you can find plenty of speculation about evil manipulation by CrowdStrike and secret maneuvers by Ukrainians — often inflamed by Mr. Trump’s own statements.

Until the president’s statements, however, even internet speculation did not attribute CrowdStrike’s ownership to a rich Ukrainian or suggest that the D.N.C. servers were hidden in Ukraine.

George Eliason, an American journalist who lives in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists fought Ukrainian forces, has written extensively about what he considers to be a “coup attempt” against President Trump involving American and Ukrainian intelligence agencies and CrowdStrike. He said he did not know if his writings for obscure websites might have influenced the president.

“CrowdStrike and Ukrainian Intel are working hand in glove,” he wrote in an email. “Is Ukrainian Intelligence trying to invent a reason for the U.S. to take a hardline stance against Russia? Are they using CrowdStrike to carry this out?”

Mr. Eliason and other purveyors of Ukraine conspiracies often point to the Atlantic Council, a research group in Washington, as the locus of the schemes. The Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Pinchuk has made donations to the council and serves on its international advisory board; Dmitri Alperovitch, CrowdStrike’s co-founder, who was born in Russia and came to the United States as a child, is an Atlantic Council senior fellow.

That connection seems slender, but it may be the origin of Mr. Trump’s association of a wealthy Ukrainian with CrowdStrike.

Pro-Trump media leaped last week to defend the president’s Ukraine theories. Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show that Mr. Trump’s “reference to CrowdStrike, mark my words, is momentous,” though he did not say why.

And Russian state news outlets are always ready to cheer on Mr. Trump’s efforts to point the blame for the 2016 hack away from Moscow. On Sept. 25, after the White House released its memo on the Zelensky call, Russia’s Sputnik news website ran a story supporting Mr. Trump’s remarks.

The Sputnik article cited Mr. Eliason’s writings and suggested that CrowdStrike might have framed Russia for the D.N.C. hack — if it occurred at all. It quoted a Twitter account called “The Last Refuge” declaring: “The D.N.C. servers were never hacked.”

All this mythmaking about the 2016 hack frustrates Robert Johnston, who was the lead investigator for CrowdStrike on the D.N.C. inquiry. Mr. Johnston, a former Marine and Cyber Command operator, said he could make no sense of Mr. Trump’s assertions.

“It doesn’t connect with anything in my experience,” he said. “I’d be interested in the president of Ukraine’s impression.”

Mr. Johnston, now chief executive of the cybersecurity company Adlumin, said he was weary of the conspiracies surrounding what he considered a straightforward conclusion. Having seen the digital fingerprints of Russian intelligence in earlier hacking cases, he felt there was little doubt about the identity of the perpetrators.

“I don’t know how you get to this point,” Mr. Johnston said of the fantasies Mr. Trump has promoted. “This is a story that just won’t die.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

The CrowdStrike Plot: How a Fringe Theory Took Root in the White House

In an April 2017 interview with The Associated Press, President Trump suddenly began talking about the hack of the Democratic National Committee a year earlier, complaining that the F.B.I. had not physically examined the compromised server.

“They brought in another company that I hear is Ukrainian-based,” the president said.

“CrowdStrike?” the surprised reporter asked, referring to the California cybersecurity company that investigated how Russian government hackers had stolen and leaked Democratic emails, disrupting Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

“That’s what I heard,” Mr. Trump resumed. “I heard it’s owned by a very rich Ukrainian; that’s what I heard.”

More than two years later, Mr. Trump was still holding on to this false conspiracy theory. In his July call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, he summed it up in a sort of shorthand — at least according to the White House memorandum, labeled “not a verbatim transcript.”

“I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people …,” the president said. It is unclear whether the ellipses indicate that words were omitted or that Mr. Trump’s voice was trailing off.

Then he added one novel detail: “The server, they say Ukraine has it.”

Now, Mr. Trump’s call for Ukraine to look into his CrowdStrike story forms the background to the House impeachment inquiry, which is focused on the second request he made: that Mr. Zelensky investigate Mr. Trump’s possible 2020 opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Mr. Trump has placed a concoction of disprovable claims, of the kind usually found on the fringes of the web, squarely in the middle of American politics and diplomacy.

The tale of the supposedly hidden server may have appealed to Mr. Trump because it undercut a well-established fact that he has resented and resisted for three years: The Russian government interfered in the 2016 election to help him win, an effort thoroughly documented by American intelligence agencies and amply supported by public evidence.

By contrast, there is no evidence to support the president’s vague suggestion that Ukraine, not Russia, might be responsible for the hacking, or that CrowdStrike somehow connived in it. But his alternate history has provided a psychological shield for the president against facts that he believes tarnish his electoral victory.

Mr. Trump has long called for better relations with Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia and brushed aside complaints about its conduct. So there is a certain symmetry to his suggestion that Ukraine, Russia’s opponent and the victim of its territorial grab, may somehow have framed Russia for the 2016 election activity.

“Ukraine is the perfect scapegoat for him, because it’s the enemy of Russia,” said Nina Jankowicz, a fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington who regularly visits Ukraine and is writing a book called “How to Lose the Information War.”

She noted that a number of Ukraine-linked stories, some of them distorted or exaggerated, have been pulled together by Mr. Trump’s supporters into a single narrative.

For example, there is the idea, promoted by the president’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, that Ukraine’s government actively sabotaged Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign. A Ukrainian-American lawyer who consulted for the D.N.C. looked into the finances of Paul Manafort and spoke with Ukrainian embassy officials. But there appears to have been no organized Ukrainian government effort to intervene — certainly nothing comparable to the activities of Russian intelligence agencies ordered by Mr. Putin.

It is true that a Ukrainian legislator helped publicize documents on Mr. Manafort’s multimillion-dollar payments from a Ukrainian political party, leading to his resignation as Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman. But the claim of Mr. Manafort’s wrongdoing turned out to be justified. He is now serving seven and a half years in prison for financial fraud and other crimes.

In May, Mr. Trump recalled the American ambassador to Kiev, Marie L. Yovanovitch, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2016, telling others she was scheming against his administration. She has denied it.

And Mr. Trump has repeatedly charged that Mr. Biden, who handled Ukrainian affairs as vice president, tried to get a prosecutor fired for investigating a Ukrainian energy company that paid his son, Hunter, handsomely as a board member despite a lack of experience in Ukraine. In fact, multiple countries were pressing for the firing of the prosecutor, who they thought was turning a blind eye to corruption.

“Now it seems like all of these conspiracy theories are merging into one,” Ms. Jankowicz said. She studies disinformation, she said, but Mr. Trump produced one claim she’d never come across.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_161614164_ab1b1ada-cb55-4a9c-8ffb-6c95b22c2b1e-articleLarge The CrowdStrike Plot: How a Fringe Theory Took Root in the White House Zelensky, Volodymyr Yovanovitch, Marie L United States Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia Rumors and Misinformation Reddit Inc Presidential Election of 2016 Mueller, Robert S III Giuliani, Rudolph W Federal Bureau of Investigation Facebook Inc Democratic Party democratic national committee Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Cyberwarfare and Defense CrowdStrike Inc Clinton, Hillary Rodham Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter Atlantic Council 4chan

The Democratic National Committee’s servers came under attack by Russian hackers in 2016.CreditPaul Holston/Associated Press

“I do this for a living, and I’d never heard anyone say the servers were in Ukraine,” she said.

In the 27 months between Mr. Trump’s two citations of the CrowdStrike-Ukraine conspiracy theory, it has survived despite many denials from CrowdStrike, the F.B.I. and people directly involved in the investigations. It has survived despite the fact that the D.N.C. put one of its hacked servers on display — not in Ukraine but in its Washington offices beside the filing cabinet pried open in 1972 by the Watergate burglars (and a photo of the two artifacts ran on The Times’s front page). It has survived despite the indictment prepared last year by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, laying out in extraordinary detail the actions of 12 named Russian military intelligence officers who hacked the D.N.C. and other election targets.

The speculation springs from what Mr. Trump has called a “big Dem scam” — the false notion that the F.B.I. never really investigated the D.N.C. hack. In fact, according to people directly involved, CrowdStrike was in regular contact with the bureau in spring 2016 as it examined dozens of servers used by both the D.N.C. and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

It is true, as Mr. Trump has often tweeted, that F.B.I. agents never took physical possession of the Democrats’ servers. But CrowdStrike supplied the F.B.I. with digital copies of the servers so that the bureau could assess the Russian malware infecting them. The Mueller investigation later confirmed CrowdStrike’s findings.

Still, the president has clung to the theory linking CrowdStrike, Ukraine and the D.N.C. servers despite the repeated efforts of his aides to dissuade him, Thomas Bossert, his former homeland security adviser, said on Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “The D.N.C. server and that conspiracy theory has got to go,” he said. “If he continues to focus on that white whale, it’s going to bring him down.”

To go in search of the roots of Mr. Trump’s CrowdStrike-Ukraine conspiracy theory is to travel the internet’s most peculiar provinces and the darkest threads on Twitter and Facebook. On 4chan and pro-Trump spaces on Reddit, on websites like ZeroHedge.com and Washington’s Blog, you can find plenty of speculation about evil manipulation by CrowdStrike and secret maneuvers by Ukrainians — often inflamed by Mr. Trump’s own statements.

Until the president’s statements, however, even internet speculation did not attribute CrowdStrike’s ownership to a rich Ukrainian or suggest that the D.N.C. servers were hidden in Ukraine.

George Eliason, an American journalist who lives in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists fought Ukrainian forces, has written extensively about what he considers to be a “coup attempt” against President Trump involving American and Ukrainian intelligence agencies and CrowdStrike. He said he did not know if his writings for obscure websites might have influenced the president.

“CrowdStrike and Ukrainian Intel are working hand in glove,” he wrote in an email. “Is Ukrainian Intelligence trying to invent a reason for the U.S. to take a hardline stance against Russia? Are they using CrowdStrike to carry this out?”

Mr. Eliason and other purveyors of Ukraine conspiracies often point to the Atlantic Council, a research group in Washington, as the locus of the schemes. The Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Pinchuk has made donations to the council and serves on its international advisory board; Dmitri Alperovitch, CrowdStrike’s co-founder, who was born in Russia and came to the United States as a child, is an Atlantic Council senior fellow.

That connection seems slender, but it may be the origin of Mr. Trump’s association of a wealthy Ukrainian with CrowdStrike.

Pro-Trump media leaped last week to defend the president’s Ukraine theories. Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show that Mr. Trump’s “reference to CrowdStrike, mark my words, is momentous,” though he did not say why.

And Russian state news outlets are always ready to cheer on Mr. Trump’s efforts to point the blame for the 2016 hack away from Moscow. On Sept. 25, after the White House released its memo on the Zelensky call, Russia’s Sputnik news website ran a story supporting Mr. Trump’s remarks.

The Sputnik article cited Mr. Eliason’s writings and suggested that CrowdStrike might have framed Russia for the D.N.C. hack — if it occurred at all. It quoted a Twitter account called “The Last Refuge” declaring: “The D.N.C. servers were never hacked.”

All this mythmaking about the 2016 hack frustrates Robert Johnston, who was the lead investigator for CrowdStrike on the D.N.C. inquiry. Mr. Johnston, a former Marine and Cyber Command operator, said he could make no sense of Mr. Trump’s assertions.

“It doesn’t connect with anything in my experience,” he said. “I’d be interested in the president of Ukraine’s impression.”

Mr. Johnston, now chief executive of the cybersecurity company Adlumin, said he was weary of the conspiracies surrounding what he considered a straightforward conclusion. Having seen the digital fingerprints of Russian intelligence in earlier hacking cases, he felt there was little doubt about the identity of the perpetrators.

“I don’t know how you get to this point,” Mr. Johnston said of the fantasies Mr. Trump has promoted. “This is a story that just won’t die.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

House Investigators Question Kurt Volker, First Impeachment Witness

WASHINGTON — House investigators on Thursday privately questioned Kurt D. Volker, the State Department’s former special envoy for Ukraine, interviewing the first witness in their growing impeachment inquiry into whether President Trump tried to bend American policy for his own political benefit.

Mr. Volker, a former ambassador to NATO, has not been accused of directly taking part in Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate a leading political rival. But he appears to have been caught up in efforts by the president and his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to enlist Ukrainian leaders to unearth damaging information about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats.

Mr. Volker’s name appears several times in an anonymous C.I.A. whistle-blower complaint that set off the impeachment inquiry, and Mr. Giuliani has said publicly he briefed Mr. Volker on his efforts. The complaint centers on a July call Mr. Trump had with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, in which he pressed him to investigate Mr. Biden, and asserts that Mr. Volker advised the Ukrainians on how to “navigate” Mr. Trump’s demands.

Investigators for the House Intelligence Committee want to know what Mr. Volker knew, and when, about Mr. Giuliani’s work in Ukraine, the president’s decision to withhold $391 million in security assistance from the country at the same time he was pressing for the investigations of Democrats, and the Trump administration’s decision to recall Marie L. Yovanovitch, the former United States ambassador to Ukraine who was targeted by the president and Mr. Giuliani for ostensibly being insufficiently loyal.

Another key avenue of inquiry for investigators on Thursday is likely to be the American delegation that visited Kiev for Mr. Zelensky’s inauguration, which included Mr. Volker; Gordon Sondland, the American ambassador to the European Union; Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin; and Rick Perry, the energy secretary. House investigators were expected to ask questions about the message the officials delivered to the new government.

The interview, which Mr. Volker participated in voluntarily, was expected to last several hours out of public view. Before he arrived, Mr. Volker provided the House with more than 60 pages of documents, mostly text messages, related to his work at the State Department, according to a congressional official familiar with the investigation, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the ongoing inquiry.

Mr. Volker resigned on Friday from his part-time, unpaid State Department post without public explanation. A person familiar with his thinking said the longtime diplomat concluded he could no longer be effective in the post in light of the unfolding scandal. But the resignation also freed him to appear before the House investigators without restrictions, according to people familiar with his account.

As special envoy for Ukraine, Mr. Volker was near the heart of the administration’s diplomacy with the country. But, he has told colleagues, he was not involved in the pressure campaign, and was only trying to prod the new president to stick to his campaign promises of fighting corruption, people familiar with his account said.

Mr. Volker has also told friends and colleagues that he believed that the Trump administration was withholding the aid to Ukraine because of generalized concerns about corruption, rather than to force a specific investigation of the Biden family, according to a person familiar with his account.

But Mr. Volker did know about Mr. Giuliani’s interest in having the Ukrainians investigate Mr. Biden, the person said. The two discussed it at a meeting that Mr. Giuliani has said took place in July, according to people familiar with his account. At that meeting, intended to pave the way for a meeting with the Ukrainians, Mr. Volker told Mr. Giuliani he believed the allegations against the Bidens were baseless, according to a person briefed on the conversation. But Mr. Volker did not disagree with Mr. Giuliani’s contention that there was corruption in Ukraine, and that some in the country wanted to try to influence Mr. Biden through his son.

Mr. Giuliani did not argue the point with Mr. Volker, but said he wanted the Ukrainian government to investigate if Ukrainian citizens had violated their laws. Mr. Volker said that was what the government was supposed to do. At the end of the meeting, Mr. Volker put Mr. Giuliani in touch with Andriy Yermak, the new Ukrainian president’s adviser, according to people familiar with his account.

The whistle-blower’s complaint says that a day after Mr. Trump spoke with Mr. Zelensky in July, Mr. Volker and Mr. Sondland met with Mr. Zelensky and other political figures in person. The whistle-blower said that multiple American officials told him the two Americans gave “advice” to the Ukrainians “about how to navigate the demands that the president had made of Mr. Zelensky.”

The complaint also says that the two men had tried to “contain the damage” to American national security posed by the scheme.

Mr. Volker was expected to testify that he did not know why the aid had been frozen at the time of that conversation. While he had pushed for a call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky, Mr. Volker had no early warning that the July 25 call had been scheduled.

Even before the first deposition began, Republicans were raising complaints about the fairness of the investigative process. Representative Michael T. McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote to its chairman on Wednesday protesting that committee staff would not be allowed to ask questions during the depositions and that Republicans had been given fewer slots than Democrats. Democrats said Mr. McCaul’s complaint about partisan parity was unfounded, and that Republicans and Democrats would be represented Thursday in equal numbers.

But Republicans were demanding other answers about the fast-unfolding inquiry, highlighting some of the murkiness of Democrats’ intentions.

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the top House Republican, wrote to Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday requesting she “suspend” the impeachment investigation “until transparent and equitable rules and procedures are established to govern the inquiry, as is customary.”

Democrats are deviating from recent historical precedent for presidential impeachment proceedings. When the House conducted impeachment inquiries of Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton, the full chamber held votes to authorize the inquiries. And the majority party established rules meant to clearly govern their work and give the president substantial due process.

This time, Ms. Pelosi and her team believe no House vote is necessary and do not intend to take one. And they have said little publicly about how they expect the investigation to play out, or what procedures will govern it. Mr. McCarthy demanded she offer an outline, and said that any deviation from past precedent would be unfair to the president and would “create a process completely devoid of any merit or legitimacy.”

For now, though, Democrats are pushing forward with haste, issuing near-daily requests or subpoenas for documentary evidence and witness testimony.

The session with Mr. Volker is expected to be the first in a fast-paced series of interviews in the coming weeks, when Democrats aim to bring a parade of witnesses behind closed doors for questioning. Ms. Yovanovitch is expected to appear next week.

Other State Department diplomats, including Mr. Sondland, and associates of Mr. Giuliani’s are scheduled to participate, as well, but it remains to be seen whether they will appear voluntarily. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the committee this week that its requests were inappropriately aggressive and untenable.

First, though, the Intelligence Committee will privately debrief the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, on Friday. Mr. Atkinson met with the panel once before, but he was barred from discussing a preliminary investigation he conducted to determine the credibility of the whistle-blower complaint. Now, lawmakers expect him to provide a list of which administration officials he interviewed before ultimately deeming the complaint “credible.”

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