The US President, Donald Trump, is a man with a long history of challenging consensus. Whether affronted by crowd numbers reported by the “mainstream media”, or more seriously, alleging widespread US voter fraud, he has endorsed or at least entertained a number of controversial conspiracy theories.
Writing in The Washington Post yesterday, Philip Bump claimed that Trump’s pet theories “start from a position of exonerating Trump and work backward, introducing whatever viable rhetoric you can”.
More recently, however, Trump’s dalliances with conspiracy have become entangled with the whistleblower complaint scandal that threatens his Presidency. Indeed, it was his preoccupation with two such theories that led him to pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine for help in the first place.
Here, we take a look at some of Trump’s claims about the impeachment proceedings – and the truth behind them:
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Joe Biden pressured the Ukrainian government to fire its Inspector General to shield his son
In 2016, Joe Biden led a push by the Obama administration to oust the Ukrainian general prosecutor Viktor Shokin.
Shokin was responsible for investigating Ukrainian gas company, Burisma Holdings, where Biden’s son, Hunter, received a $50,000 monthly salary as a member of the firm’s board of directors.
“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great,” said Trump during the call. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.”
While there is no evidence to suggest Biden or his son were involved in any corruption, many are still divided on the question of whether his hands are completely clean.
However, exactly what Biden is supposed to have done remains unclear, and “from the perspective of Ukrainian legislation, he did not violate anything,” former Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuri Lutsenko told The Washington Post
Undermining the theory that Biden senior pressed for the removal of the attorney general to smooth the way for his son is the fact that “getting rid of Shokin made an investigation of Burisma more likely, not less,” writes Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times.
“[Shokin] didn’t want to investigate Burisma,” Daria Kaleniuk, the Ukrainian anti-corruption activist, told The Washington Post. “[He] was fired not because he wanted to do that investigation, but quite to the contrary, because he failed that investigation.”
However, at the very least, contests Yoshiko Herrera, an expert in Russia and Eurasia policy at the University of Wisconsin at Madison,“conflict-of-interest rules should have applied. If Biden is working for the Obama administration on Ukraine, his son should not have been on the board of a company there that could be affected by U.S. policy spearheaded by his father.”
The story goes like this: when the Democratic National Convention email server was hacked in the leadup to the 2016 election, the party called in a cybersecurity company called Crowdstrike, which had run cybersecurity investigations for the US government.
Crowdstrike gave a digital copy of the email server to the FBI for it to conduct its own investigation, and kept the physical server itself. Conspiracy theorists like Trump allege, without evidence, that the copy given to the FBI was doctored in some way, and the real server was hidden in Ukraine.
Trump referenced Crowdstrike before he asked the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden.
“I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it,” said Trump Zelensky during their now-infamous phone call.
“I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people … The server, they say Ukraine has it.”
Ukraine was behind the 2016 election interference, and did so on behalf of the Democrats.
This idea that it was Ukraine, not Russia, who meddled in the 2016 presidential election, and that the interference was in favour of the Democrats, has apparently been pushed on Trump by his lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
“It is completely debunked,” said Thomas P. Bossert, who served as Trump’s first homeland security adviser, blaming Giuliani for filling the president’s head with fantasy. “I am deeply frustrated with what he and the legal team is doing and repeating that debunked theory to the president. It sticks in his mind when he hears it over and over again, and for clarity here… let me just again repeat that it has no validity.”
“The simple fact here is that Trump has never – and maybe will never – agree with both his intelligence community and the Mueller Report that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 US election to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton,” writes Chris Cillizza for CNN. “In Trump’s mind, acknowledging that fact – and, no matter what he thinks, it is a fact – is tantamount to admitting he didn’t win fair and square. And that is not something Trump is willing to do.”
The whistleblower is using official channels for a “political hit job”
“I think it’s unfortunate that the media continues to describe this individual as a ‘whistleblower’, an honorific [they] most certainly do not deserve,” said Trump consigliere Stephen Miller on Fox News on Sunday. “A partisan hit job does not make you a whistleblower just because you do it through the Whistleblower Protection Act.”
Trump has echoed the idea that the whistleblower is politically motivated, however, there is not currently any evidence to support this claim.
The intelligence community lowered the standards for whistleblowing just before Trump was accused
According to right-wing journal The Federalist, just before the whistleblower filed their official complaint over the president, the rules were changed to “no longer require potential whistleblowers who wish to have their concerns expedited to Congress to have direct, first-hand knowledge of the alleged wrongdoing that they are reporting”.
However, while indeed a form was changed at the time The Federalist claims, there was never any requirement regarding first-hand evidence in whistelblower complaints, “precisely because those filings are designed to trigger official investigations that would uncover such first-hand information,” reports NBC.
“The law was not changed. What happened was a form was changed. A form cannot change the law,” said Bradley Moss, an attorney who specializes in representing whistleblowers.
“I want to stress that I believe that the whistleblower and the inspector general have acted in good faith throughout,” said Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire at a House Intelligence hearing last week. “I have every reason to believe that they have done everything by the book and followed the law.”