9 conspiracy theories impeachment will expose and debunk

The most basic definition of “corruption” amounts to exploiting one’s authority for personal advantage. President Trump faces an unprecedented inquiry into his abuse of the vast powers of the presidency for personal gain. 

The origins of Trump’s constitutional predicament are firmly rooted in the president’s embrace of political conspiracy theories. In an era when hyperpartisan news sources dominate political discourse, fanciful and factually challenged political narratives spread like wildfire, radicalizing millions of Americans’ political leanings.

In particular, conspiracy theories surrounding the Steele dossier, the murder of Seth Rich, “Spygate,” “Pizzagate,”  “QAnon,” Benghazi, Uranium One and the Clinton Foundation, “millions and millions” of illegal votes, President Obama’s birth certificate, IRS “targeting,” and “Fast and Furious” among others, come to mind. 

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Through indoctrination by partisan media sources, lurid conspiracy theories such as these lead far too many Americans to accept false narratives of egregious corruption or, worse, that millions of their fellow citizens are actively subverting the United States. The emergence of ever-more outlandish theories only reinforces such toxic assumptions. Worst of all, facts, truth and logic die an unceremonious death as political conspiracy theories propagate via hyperpartisan “news” sources and social media.

Against this backdrop, a brief examination of the conspiracy theories that precipitated President Trump’s current political crisis – and the objectively false narratives that emerged in its wake – are in order.

Conspiracy Theory #1: The FBI investigation of Trump campaign coordination with Russia was a “deep state” (or Clinton/DNC) plot to damage Trump politically. 

The Reality: This is an absurdly baseless claim apparently embraced by the president himself. Worse, Trump has improperly pushed foreign leaders to discredit the well-understood origins of the FBI investigation into his 2016 presidential campaign. After years of exhaustive investigation, special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be 'more serious' than what Mueller 'dragged up' Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network MORE reported that the FBI inquiry into the Trump campaign began with a tip-off from a foreign government.

In short, a Trump aide disclosed to an Australian diplomat that Russia possessed political “dirt” on Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonJill Stein: 'I am not a Russian spy' Trump criticizes Clinton for suggesting Jill Stein was Russian asset Graham: I'm seeking to make Trump successful 'but not at all costs' MORE. This revelation prompted the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign. Of note, Mueller also reported that another foreign government (possibly Greece) relayed a similar warning to the FBI before the Australian government’s tip-off. Absolutely no evidence of a “deep state” plot to entrap Trump exists. 

Conspiracy Theory #2: Vice President (and Democratic presidential candidate) Joe BidenJoe BidenCNN's Anderson Cooper mocks WH press secretary over Fox News interview Yang cautions Democrats: Impeachment might not be 'successful' Ocasio-Cortez: Sanders' heart attack was a 'gut check' moment MORE and his son Hunter Biden, or both, engaged in corrupt activities in Ukraine.

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The Reality: This conspiracy theory is completely unfounded. The former Ukrainian prosecutor general has stated that there is no evidence of illegal activity by the Bidens and no grounds to investigate either of them. Perhaps most importantly, had Hunter Biden engaged in corrupt activities in Ukraine, Vice President Biden’s push to remove an ineffective Ukrainian prosecutor general would have potentially placed his son in legal jeopardy

Conspiracy Theory #3: Joe Biden, as vice president, pressured Ukraine to remove the prosecutor investigating the company that hired his son.

The Reality: The investigation into the Ukrainian company that hired Hunter Biden was inactive when the younger Biden began working at the company. Separately, allegations of wrongdoing by the company’s CEO predate Hunter Biden’s hiring.

Moreover, America’s NATO allies, Ukrainian anti-corruption activists, and the International Monetary Fund all urged the firing of the ineffective Ukrainian prosecutor that Biden ultimately persuaded the Ukrainian government to dismiss. In short, Joe Biden should be commended for prompting the removal of an ineffective prosecutor in a country riddled with corruption.

Conspiracy Theory #4: Ukraine mounted a coordinated effort to interfere in the 2016 election on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

The Reality: Ukrainian “interference” in the 2016 election centered on the release of documents detailing massive corruption by Trump campaign manager Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortNew York City lawmakers vote to close Rikers Island jail by 2026 Perry says Trump directed him to discuss Ukraine with Giuliani: report Cuomo signs measure allowing New York to press charges despite presidential pardon MORE. Right-wing pundits (and President Trump) are absolutely right that political corruption by an American occurred in Ukraine; the only problem is that the perpetrator (Manafort) served at the very top of the Trump campaign. Instead of criticizing Ukraine’s actions in 2016, Americans should thank the Ukrainian government for bringing Manafort’s illegal activities to light. Not only did they force Manafort’s resignation, the associated scrutiny assisted U.S. law enforcement agencies in bringing Trump’s campaign manager to justice. Manafort is currently serving a seven-and-a-half year sentence in federal prison. 

Conspiracy Theory #5: As part of a massive Ukrainian plot to interfere in the 2016 election on behalf of Hillary Clinton, a Ukrainian-linked cybersecurity firm falsely accused Russia of hacking Democratic National Committee servers. 

The Reality: The director of national intelligence, CIA, FBI, NSA, special counsel Robert Mueller, numerous congressional committees and private cybersecurity companies affirm that Russia hacked the DNC as part of a sweeping plot to interfere in the 2016 elections. Trump, on the other hand, has openly questioned the U.S. government’s unambiguous conclusions, most notably while standing immediately next to Russian President Putin.

Moreover, the FBI was satisfied with the forensic data that it received from CrowdStrike, the IT security firm that analyzed the DNC’s servers. In his call with the Ukrainian president, Trump peddled the widely debunked conspiracy theory that CrowdStrike is linked to the Ukrainian government or to Ukrainian “wealthy people.” CrowdStrike is an American company based in Sunnyvale, Calif.  

Conspiracy Theory #6: Whistleblower reporting requirements were altered to accommodate allegations of wrongdoing by Trump.

The Reality: The intelligence community inspector general (a Trump appointee) has forcefully rejected such claims. The reporting form and guidelines have not been altered since mid-2018, a full year before Trump corruptly sought to persuade his Ukrainian counterpart to open a corruption investigation into his chief political rival in the 2020 presidential election.

Conspiracy Theory #7: In suddenly halting years of military aid to Ukraine shortly before asking the Ukrainian president for a political “favor,” Trump claimed that Europe was not contributing enough resources to support the Ukrainian government. 

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The Reality: European countries and financial institutions have contributed over $16 billion in aid to Ukraine since 2014. By comparison, the U.S. has contributed $1.5 billion in security assistance over the same period.

Conspiracy Theory #8: Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffWhite House staggers after tumultuous 48 hours Trump embarks on Twitter spree amid impeachment inquiry, Syria outrage House Republicans 'demand the release of the rules' on impeachment MORE (D-Calif.) lied to Congress and to the American public in an opening statement on the whistleblower allegations (and should be arrested for treason for doing so).

The Reality: Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, parodied the call to illustrate how Trump improperly pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate Vice President Biden’s son for Trump’s political gain. In his opening statement, Schiff clearly stated that the transcript of Trump’s call to the Ukrainian president “reads like a classic organized crime shakedown.” Following his parody, Schiff further stated that “This is, in sum and character, what the president was trying to communicate.” 

Conspiracy Theory #9: The whistleblower’s allegations of corruption by President Trump have no merit because they were not witnessed first-hand.

The Reality: Not only is “first-hand” knowledge not required by law, the whistleblower’s allegations of corruption by Trump are in perfect alignment with the evidence released to date.

The litany of conspiracy theories outlined above presents a true threat to the United States. For one, President Trump’s embrace of such absurd narratives allows Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinJill Stein: 'I am not a Russian spy' Congress plays party politics regarding Syria and Saudis Pelosi, Schumer hit 'flailing' Trump over 'sham ceasefire' deal MORE to realize peak return on investment in his gamble to sow political and social discord in the U.S. 

Equally damaging is the GOP’s stalwart defense of Trump in the face of such indefensibly bogus claims. As Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyErdoğan got the best of Trump, experts warn Trump tweets ad hitting Romney as 'Democrat secret asset' Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump insists Turkey wants cease-fire | Fighting continues in Syrian town | Pentagon chief headed to Mideast | Mattis responds to criticism from Trump MORE (R-Utah) aptly noted, continued Republican cover of Trump in light of the objective truth lays bare the lengths to which Republicans will go to “preserve” and “maintain” their power.

Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense.