U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, pressed the idea as early as summer 2016 that it was Ukraine -- not Russia -- that was responsible for the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer server, newly released documents show.
The documents made public on November 2 show that deputy campaign manager Rick Gates told the FBI of Manafort’s theory during interviews conducted as part of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
The Justice Department released 500 pages of interview summaries, e-mails, and other documents related to Mueller's report following a court battle with U.S. news outlets BuzzFeed News and CNN.
The new information indicates that people in and around Trump’s team were pressing the unsubstantiated theory about Ukraine’s role much earlier than originally thought.
It also appears to present a link between the now-completed Mueller probe and the Democratic-led House of Representatives impeachment inquiry of Trump's dealings with Kyiv.
In his report released in April, Mueller concluded there was a “sweeping and systematic” effort by Russia to sway the 2016 election in Trump's favor, utilizing e-mails hacked from Democratic party officials and a social-media campaign to spread disinformation.
Moscow denies it meddled, and Trump has denied colluding with Russian figures.
The United States has imposed a series of sanctions on Russia for its alleged activities surrounding the U.S. election campaign, although Trump has spoken of improving ties with Moscow and has expressed praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The theory advanced by Trump even after he took office of Ukrainian rather than Russia involvement would later help trigger the current impeachment inquiry.
Democrats accuse Trump of pressuring the Ukrainians to investigate Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who had business dealings in Ukraine, by threatening to hold off already approved military aid to the country.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing in dealings with Ukraine and has called the impeachment process a “hoax,” as he also said of the Mueller probe.
Trump, when speaking with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on July 25, asked about the DNC server in the same phone call in which he pushed for an investigation into Biden.
In his interview with the FBI, Gates also said the campaign believed that Michael Flynn -- who later became Trump's first national-security adviser -- would be in the best position to obtain missing e-mails of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton because of his connections to Russia.
Flynn was fired from his White House post weeks after assuming the role. In December 2017, he pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators about meetings and conversations with Russian officials, and he agreed to cooperate with law enforcement. He is awaiting sentencing.
Mueller’s Russia investigation also led to the prosecution of Manafort for lobbying violations and financial crimes. He is currently serving a 7 1/2 year prison sentence.