The following is from page iii of the House Intelligence Committee’s Minority Report on the Ukraine investigation, written by Republican staffers.
The thing that stands out for me is the bit about a “difference of world views.” For example, the Republicans exist in this world:
REP. RANDY WEBER (R): Is CrowdStrike in part owned by a Ukrainian?
CHRIS CUOMO: No!
WEBER: … … really?
WEBER: That’s not the information that we have.
CUOMO: You have bad information! pic.twitter.com/byfAq1eXov
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 3, 2019
The Democrats exist in the world where CrowdStrike was in part founded by Dmitri Alperovitch, a Russian-born American computer security industry executive who is not in any sense a Ukrainian. This appears to be a key distinction between fantasy and reality.
The president of the United States is so wrapped up in fantasy that he actually brought up CrowdStrike on his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
“I would like you to do us a favor, though, because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. 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 server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like to get to the bottom of it.”
Here Trump is saying that he was told that a Ukrainian (“one of your wealthy people”) was behind CrowdStrike. This is not only false but it only matters because Trump would like to believe that the Russians did not hack the Democratic National Headquarters. The DNC hired CrowdStrike to do an investigation after they realized that they had a computer security problem in the late spring of 2016. The examiners identified known Russian hackers as the perpetrators and that was a conclusion also reached by the FBI and the NSA.
Trump also said that Ukraine “has” the server. This is a really bizarre thing to say. Lily Hay Newman of Wired explains why this assertion makes no sense whatsoever.
When CrowdStrike began its investigation, Fancy Bear hackers still had active access to the DNC’s networks, and CrowdStrike worked to remove them.
As part of that remediation, the DNC, CrowdStrike, and government investigators had to “decommission more than 140 servers, remove and reinstall all software, including the operating systems, for more than 180 computers, and rebuild at least 11 servers,” according to court documents filed by the DNC in 2018.
Trump has had a very public, long-held fascination with that process, for years referring to the DNC’s “missing server.” But when CrowdStrike or another firm investigates an incident, they typically don’t physically remove a client’s devices. Instead, they make “images” of the hard drive and memory of every relevant device so that they can preserve a sort of snapshot of the compromised systems. Over time, digital forensic evidences washes away, as people reboot their devices or add and delete files.
In other words, there is no missing server. There’s no physical box locked away in a vault somewhere. There are simply copies of what the DNC’s systems looked like at the time of the attack, which both CrowdStrike and the DNC confirm were shared with the FBI during the investigation, no U-Haul required.
It’s tempting to think that Trump knows that what he was saying to President Zelensky is a stupid conspiracy theory, but ordinary people would be too embarrassed to knowingly repeat such nonsense to a foreign head of state, especially in the context of a conversation about selling Javelin anti-tank missiles.
In fact, Trump couldn’t even explain the theory in a coherent way so that Zelensky could understand what he was suggesting.
What’s most important, however, is that congressional Republicans are defending these theories as a rational basis for Trump to withhold military aid and an official White House visit to Ukraine. In the case of Rep. Randy Weber of Texas, he’s actually comfortable going on national television and repeating the erroneous claim that CrowdStrike had a Ukrainian founder. He either believes this to be the case because he trusts bad right-wing sources or because he simply can’t believe the president could have said this to Zelensky when it isn’t true. Perhaps Weber suffers from both defects.
I don’t know if people susceptible to such bullshit should be an impeachable offense all on its own. I think it’s clearer that it’s impeachable when it actually informs policy.
It’s also Russian propaganda.
In the summer of 2016, as Manafort faced building questions about lucrative lobbying work he did in Ukraine, he began to suggest to other Trump campaign aides that the Ukrainians might have been responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee in 2016, rather than the Russians, according to what his deputy, Rick Gates, told the FBI.
Gates told investigators that Manafort’s comments attributing the hacks to Ukrainians “parroted a narrative” that was also advanced at the time by Konstantin Kilimnik, an employee of Manafort who the FBI has assessed to have ties to Russian intelligence. (Kilimnik denies such ties.)
As the special counsel investigation got underway in 2017, other Trump allies began promoting the alternative Ukraine theory.
In a text conversation with Manafort from August 2017 released by prosecutors, Fox News host Sean Hannity cited “Ukraine interference” as one of the issues he was highlighting to attack Mueller.
Trying to absolve Russia of responsibility for hacking the Democrats in 2016 and then pinning the blame on Ukraine seems like an impeachable offense to me, especially when combined with an effort to force Ukraine to agree to this theory while withholding military aid they need to repel Russian invaders.
But I live in reality. The Republicans are now living in a Trump fantasy world that was cooked up by the Kremlin.
I see this as a problem. It’s a problem that even impeachment might not fix.