How a Russian disinfo op got Trump impeached

  • The Kremlin may have been laying the groundwork for blaming Ukraine for 2016 as early as 2015.

Three weeks after Election Day 2016, the Kremlin officially floated a theory that would ultimately lead to only the third presidential impeachment in U.S. history.

“Ukraine seriously complicated the work of Trump’s election by planting information” aimed at damaging his campaign chairman Paul Manafort, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry told reporters on Nov. 30, 2016, accusing the Ukrainian government of scheming to help elect Hillary Clinton.

[…]

Cindy Otis, a former political and military analyst at the CIA who now leads the disinformation analysis program at Nisos, a cyber security firm, says that Moscow may even have planted the seeds even earlier than Zakharova’s news conference.

“There’s been an evolution of the main narrative” tying Ukraine to the 2016 election, Otis said. She pointed to a March 2015 article in the Kremlin-funded outlet Russia Today that tried to connect former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the future Democratic presidential nominee, to the popular uprising against the pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in 2013.

“The Russian narrative in 2015-2016 was that Clinton interfered in Ukraine, and that her campaign was being directed or driven by Ukrainian oligarchs,” Otis said.

As is typical of Russia’s disinformation operations, it hinged on a kernel of truth — the reports cited donations her charity had received from Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Pinchuk beginning in 2008, which were initially reported by the Wall Street Journal.

[…]

In January 2017, however, when POLITICO published a story titled “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump backfire,” some of Trump’s allies seized on elements of the reporting — sporadic criticism of the Republican candidate by Ukrainian officials and meetings with a DNC consultant — while ignoring the caveat that the investigation found “little evidence of such a top-down effort by Ukraine.”

[…]

In that post-election news conference in 2016, Zakharova, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said something that sounds eerily prophetic in hindsight.

“The Ukrainian authorities’ attempt to play the victim is an old trick,” she said, “which usually brings good dividends.”

Source: Natasha Bertrand, Politico.com

Daniel Lippman contributed to this report.