Intel officials told senators Russia wanted to pin election meddling on Ukraine: report

American intelligence officials have told senators and their staff in recent weeks that Russia conducted a years-long effort to point the finger at Ukraine for its own interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Three American officials familiar with the briefings told The New York Times that Moscow’s effort to frame Kyiv for the election interference, which the intelligence community has said was Russia’s doing, was a complex campaign meant to undermine the Ukrainian government and spark widespread disinformation to influence the American political debate over the last presidential race. 

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Moscow’s accusations against Ukraine center around efforts by a handful of Ukrainians who were vocal critics of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE’s 2016 campaign, though their criticism was small compared to the complex Russian effort using military and intelligence operatives to hack computers and mount a disinformation campaign online. 

Moscow’s current campaign reportedly uses a network of intelligence agents that have peddled disinformation to create the impression that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the race between Trump and his Democratic rival, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSanders to Clinton: 'This is not the kind of rhetoric that we need' Sekulow vows Bidens, Ukraine will be part of Trump impeachment defense Elizabeth Warren: More 'Hillary' than Hillary MORE. The disinformation from the agents has then spread to intermediaries, including oligarchs and businessmen, and has then been passed to American political figures and even some journalists who are not believed to have known of the materials’ origin. 

The Times's report, released Friday, comes as Republicans in the House defend Trump’s demand that Kyiv investigates any 2016 election meddling coming from Ukraine, an issue he repeatedly raised with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

However, Fiona Hill, a former top Russia analyst for the White House, took the GOP to task for repeating the debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in 2016, saying promoting the idea ultimately helped Moscow.

“Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country—and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did,” Hill said in front of the House Intelligence Committee Thursday. “This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.” 

“In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests,” she added.

Still, Trump doubled down Friday on his claims Ukraine is connected to a hacked Democratic server from the 2016 election. 

"They gave the server to CrowdStrike or whatever it’s called, which is a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian, and I still want to see that server," Trump said on “Fox & Friends.”

“That’s what the word is,” he added. “That’s what I asked actually on my phone call, you know. I asked it very point-blank because we’re looking for corruption. There’s tremendous corruption. Why should we be giving hundreds of millions of dollars to countries when there’s this kind of corruption?”