What Trump really wanted from Ukraine was not about enemies

What Trump really wanted from Ukraine was not about enemies
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What President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump administration eyes proposal to block jet engine sales to China: report Trump takes track to open Daytona 500 Brazile 'extremely dismayed' by Bloomberg record MORE wanted most from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had nothing to do with Joe BidenJoe BidenDemocrats redefine center as theirs collapses Speculation swirls around whether Bloomberg will make Las Vegas debate stage Pelosi: 'I'm not counting Joe Biden out' MORE and everything to do with exonerating Russia from 2016 election meddling and pinning the blame on the Democrats and Ukraine. In the context of telling Zelensky about American assistance to Ukraine and a lack of reciprocity, Trump said on their July phone call, “I would like you to do us a favor though.” He did not first ask for an investigation of his political rival and the business deals of his son. Trump asked for an investigation of the 2016 election.

Trump did not want Zelensky to probe isolated criticisms of his campaign by a few Ukrainian officials. As former National Security Council official Fiona Hill testified last week, one could find similar comments in many nations, including some American allies. Trump instead appears to have wanted Zelensky to do him the favor of investigating the debunked conspiracy theory that Russian intervention in the 2016 election on his behalf was actually a hoax fabricated by the Democrats and Ukraine.

This conspiracy theory would serve the dual purpose of clearing Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinHow impeachment damaged US foreign policy Trump administration mulling special negotiator for nuke talks with Russia: report Former Goldman Sachs CEO rips Sanders after NH win: 'He'll ruin our economy' MORE from responsibility for intervening in the 2016 election and proving that Trump won the White House without Russi. No matter that the theory has found zero traction in the investigation of foreign interference in the 2016 election conducted by the American intelligence community, the special counsel investigation, and both Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

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Trump told Zelensky on the call, “I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine. They say Crowdstrike.” That cybersecurity firm was first to uncover the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee. The Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian military and the Russian Internet Research Agency hacked the Democratic National Committee emails and arranged for their public release. Special counsel Robert Mueller indicted those foreign entities.

The National Republican Congressional Committee also hired Crowdstrike to look into an attempted hack during the 2018 midterms. But to Trump, the Democrats allegedly used Crowdstrike to penetrate a computer server and link the crime to the Russians. Trump followed up with Zelensky by saying, “I guess you have one of your wealthy people.” He added, “The server. They say Ukraine has it.” Supposedly, the Democrats shipped their server to Ukraine as part of their plan to fabricate the Russian hacking.

The call with Zelensky was not the first time Trump mongered this absurd theory. In a media interview two years ago, Trump called the narrative of Russia collusion a “faux story.” Before the world at a press conference after the Helsinki summit, Trump said, “I really do want to see the server.” He continued last week after the public impeachment hearings ended by insisting it was Ukraine and not Russia that interfered in the 2016 election.

It is not just conservative fabulists who have fed Trump this nonsense, but as Hill testified, backed up by the American intelligence community, it is also Putin and the Russian intelligence services. In a press conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban two years ago, Putin said that the Russian invasion of Ukraine “was provoked by the Ukrainian side.” Putin then pinned intervention in the 2016 election on Ukraine in support of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe 'Palmetto Promise': South Carolina will decide the race Alabama Senate contender hits Sessions in new ad: 'Hillary still ain't in jail' Worries grow as moderates split Democratic vote MORE. “As we know, during the presidential campaign in the United States, the Ukrainian government adopted a unilateral position in favor of one candidate. More than that, certain oligarchs, with the approval of the political leadership, funded this candidate,” he said.

The mythology of a political plot between the Democrats and Ukraine to frame Russia for election interference and help Clinton feeds the Moscow propaganda machine, encourages efforts to destabilize democracies, and weakens the alliance between the United States and Ukraine. For Trump, it validates his false narrative about what happened in the 2016 election and gives him a club to wield against the Democrats. It also opens wide the door for new Russian intervention in the upcoming 2020 election.

Continued meddling in our elections advances the Moscow agenda with devastating consequences for the United States. As Hill testified, the Russians “seek to divide us against each other, degrade our institutions, and destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy.”

Allan Lichtman is an election forecaster and distinguished professor of history at American University. He is the author of the forthcoming book “Repeal the Second Amendment” and is on Twitter at @AllanLichtman.