U.S. President Donald Trump has used an extended televised interview to further assert a theory of possible Ukrainian involvement in cyberattacks on the 2016 U.S. elections that national security and other experts have publicly suggested is part of a Russian plot to smear its smaller neighbor.
The accusations involving Kyiv appear to fly in the face of cybersecurity and intelligence officials' conclusions that Russia, and not Ukraine, attacked those elections.
"I still want to see that server," Trump told Fox News in a nearly hourlong interview broadcast on November 22. "You know, the FBI has never gotten that server. That's a big part of this whole thing. Why did they give it to a Ukrainian company? Why?”
Speaking after the fifth and final day of scheduled public impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives that Trump again labeled a "hoax," he said he does not expect to be impeached but that he would welcome "a trial" to turn the tables on Democratic lawmakers who accuse him of wrongdoing in his dealings with Ukraine.
His accusations stem in part from federal law enforcement's reliance on forensics from an outside cybersecurity firm -- which the FBI subsequently confirmed -- as opposed to physically possessing Democratic National Committee servers that were reportedly hacked in 2016. The company that concluded Russia was the culprit, Crowdstrike, is based in California and is owned by a naturalized American who came from Russia.
A former Russia adviser on the White House National Security Council, Fiona Hill, testified to lawmakers on November 21 that unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about Ukrainian interference were "a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow tried to influence the 2016 election in favor of Trump.
The New York Times quoted three unnamed U.S. officials as saying U.S. intelligence officials in recent weeks told U.S. senators and staff that "Russia had engaged in a yearslong campaign to essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow’s own hacking of the 2016 election."
The Democrat-led impeachment hearings are looking into whether Trump abused his power in the withholding of $391 million in security aid to Ukraine to pressure Kyiv in part to smear a domestic political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Ukraine remains locked in a five-year war with Russia-backed separatists that erupted shortly after Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014.
The allegations against Trump stem from a whistle-blower complaint over a Trump phone call in July with new Ukrainian President Volodymy Zelenskiy in which the U.S. president asked Kyiv -- as a "favor" -- to investigate Biden and his son, and look into possible Ukrainian ties to meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential race.
Trump's accusers say he used his private lawyer Rudolph Giuliani, who has no formal post in the administration, to shape policy toward Ukraine outside of more formal diplomatic and national-security channels.
If the Democratic-led House of Representatives votes to impeach Trump, impeachment proceedings would be conducted in the Senate, which is controlled by Trump's fellow Republicans.
In a fresh sign of Republican determination to make the impeachment inquiry about Biden's son Hunter and the latter's paid work for a Ukrainian energy company, the Republican chairmen of two Senate committees have asked the Treasury officials for possible reports of "suspicious activities" between the younger Biden and that firm, Burisma Holdings, Reuters reported on November 22.
Hunter Biden has insisted he did nothing wrong, and Joe Biden has accused Republicans of using his son's Ukraine connections as a canard to derail his 2020 presidential bid.
Meanwhile, documents released on November 22 based on a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the group American Oversight reportedly indicated that Giuliani was in contact with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo multiple times in the months before the abrupt recall earlier this year of Washington's ambassador to Ukraine.
The group claimed the documents show “a clear paper trail from Rudy Giuliani to the Oval Office to Secretary Pompeo to facilitate Giuliani’s smear campaign against a U.S. ambassador.”