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Dems say State watchdog turned over 'packet of propaganda'

Democrats say the State Department watchdog used a closed-door briefing on Wednesday to give them "conspiracy theories" tied to Ukraine, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFour members of Sikh community among victims in Indianapolis shooting Overnight Health: NIH reverses Trump's ban on fetal tissue research | Biden investing .7B to fight virus variants | CDC panel to meet again Friday on J&J On The Money: Moderates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats | Justice Dept. sues Trump ally Roger Stone for unpaid taxes MORE

"It's essentially a packet of propaganda and disinformation and spreading conspiracy theories. Those conspiracy theories have been widely debunked and discredited," Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinCapitol Police watchdog paints damning picture of Jan. 6 failures The Hill's Morning Report - Biden officials brace for worst despite vaccine data Political fireworks fuel DC statehood hearing MORE (D-Md.) told reporters after an hourlong briefing with State Department Inspector General Steve Linick.

The closed-door, hour-long briefing was part of a hastily assembled meeting requested by the State Department watchdog. 

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Ahead of the meeting, there had been speculation that it could be tied to a whistleblower complaint about President TrumpDonald TrumpFreedom Caucus member condemns GOP group pushing 'Anglo-Saxon political traditions' MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell's new free speech site to ban certain curse words Secret Facebook groups of special operations officers include racist comments, QAnon posts: report MORE's July 25 phone call with Ukraine's president, which is at the forefront of the impeachment probe. 

Instead, Democrats say the packet of documents handed over by the State Department watchdog mentions Biden and his son Hunter Biden, Yovanovitch and CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity firm that investigated breaches at the DNC in the lead up to the 2016 election.

"They appear to contain long-debunked theories and false statements about the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and one of President Trump’s political opponents," said Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden rebuffs Democrats, keeps refugee admissions at 15,000 Bottom line The Memo: Biden's five biggest foreign policy challenges MORE (D-N.J.), whose staff attended the briefing. 

"These documents provide further evidence of a concerted, external effort to conduct a disinformation campaign against a career U.S ambassador, who has been the subject of baseless attacks, including by the president himself," he added. 

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelNY Democratic chair blasts primary challenge against Maloney Carolyn Maloney will face Justice Democrats-backed primary challenger Progressives fight for leverage amid ever-slimming majority MORE (D-N.Y.), Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOvernight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he Hillicon Valley: Biden administration sanctions Russia for SolarWinds hack, election interference Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats hearing MORE (D-Calif.) and Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsOvernight Health Care: AstraZeneca may have included outdated data on vaccine trial, officials say | Pelosi says drug pricing measure under discussion for infrastructure package | Biden administration extends special ObamaCare enrollment until August Pelosi: Drug pricing measure under discussion for infrastructure package Bottom line MORE (D-Md.) released a joint statement on Wednesday evening saying the briefing and documents "raise troubling questions about apparent efforts inside and outside the Trump Administration to target specific officials."

"These documents also reinforce concern that the President and his allies sought to use the machinery of the State Department to further the President’s personal political interests," they added. 

It's unclear where the documents came from, though Democrats quickly made clear after the briefing that they suspected Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiGreitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP Gaetz hires legal counsel amid DOJ probe Georgia lieutenant governor: Giuliani election claims helped lead to new voting law MORE, Trump's personal attorney, was involved. 

Giuliani said on Wednesday evening that he was responsible for some of the information in the packet given to Congress, including providing allegations against Biden.

“They told me they were going to investigate it,” Giuliani told CNN, adding that Pompeo called him after receiving the information.

A Democratic source familiar with the briefing said that the documents came from the White House to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoPompeo violated ethics rules, State Department watchdog finds Why the US needs to clear the way for international justice Tim Scott to participate in GOP event in Iowa MORE. The paperwork was organized in folders from Trump hotels and included together in an envelope labeled "White House."

"Those folders contained notes from interviews that took place at Rudy Giuliani’s NYC office with various Ukrainians about debunked conspiracies related to Ukraine. This was just another attempt by the White House to peddle Rudy Giuliani conspiracy theories," the source added.

Republicans have doubled down on calls for an investigation into Biden's role in the ouster of a Ukraine prosecutor in 2016, despite no evidence of wrongdoing.

The material shared with staffers and Raskin, the only lawmaker in the meeting, arrived at the State Department in May addressed to Pompeo. It's unclear who beyond the inspector general that Pompeo shared it with.

Schiff, Engel and Cummings said in their joint statement that the inspector general told lawmakers that he interviewed Thomas Ulrich Brechbuhl, Pompeo's counselor. Brechbuhl told the watchdog that "the packet ‘came over,’ and that Brechbuhl presumed it was from the White House." 

A spokesperson for the State Department watchdog didn't respond to a request for comment.

"We also need to understand Secretary Pompeo’s role, given that it appears that he discussed these documents with at least one of his top aides and that the documents were distributed at the highest levels of the State Department," Menendez said.

Raskin noted that the materials came in an envelope addressed to Pompeo with "White House" written on the front, but the lawmaker said it was unclear if it was actually from the White House.  

"The real question is, where did it come from?" Raskin asked. "It's clear that whoever put it together was attempting to advance exactly the storyline that Mr. Giuliani would like to be advancing." 

Raskin said that if the documents did not come directly from the White House, he thought they might have come from Giuliani. He stressed that he was making a guess and that the State Department watchdog did not mention Giuliani. 

"If it really did not come directly from the White House, I would guess that it was Giuliani. ... Giuliani's name is all over it," Raskin said. "Somebody should ask Giuliani if he knows anything about this."

The briefing comes as House Democrats want to speak with five current and former State Department officials as part of their impeachment inquiry, including Yovanovitch. 
 
The State Department inspector general told staffers that they were briefing them in light of the whistleblower complaint, though staffers appeared mystified about what the connection was to their ongoing impeachment inquiry. 
 
Raskin characterized the documents as an "irrelevant distraction from the matter at hand." 
 
A staffer who attended the meeting said that the State Department watchdog had simply handed them the stack of papers. 
 
"Because everyone was confused," the staffer added when asked why that would take an hour. "It was a very strange meeting." 
 
--Maggie Miller contributed 
 
Updated: 7:15 p.m.