Donald Trump believes a conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 presidential election. That is why Trump has called Ukraine a “corrupt country” full of “terrible people” that “tried to take me down,” according to testimony by former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker. The baseless Ukraine theory was reportedly injected into the 2016 Trump campaign by Konstantin Kilimnik, who was widely believed to be a “Russian spy,” according to testimony by Fiona Hill, the former deputy assistant to Trump for Europe and Russia.
A full transcript of the testimony by Hill is available online via PBS.
The New York Times reported last week that Kilimnik originated the anti-Ukraine “narrative” quickly seized upon by Trump. Kilimnik was a close associate of Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign chief for much of the 2016 presidential election campaign.
Manafort then fed the theory directly to Trump shortly after the first revelations emerged connecting Russian intelligence agents to the hack of Democratic National Committee email servers.
Kilimnik has also been indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller on witness tampering charges. Kilimnik is believed to now be in Russia after fleeing Ukraine with the help of the country’s top prosecutor, Yuri Lutsenko.
Documents stolen by the Russians were posted online by the document-dumping site WikiLeaks, sending shockwaves through the campaign of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and effectively disrupting the Democratic Convention in July, 2016.
Manafort was later forced to resign from the Trump campaign over his connections to pro-Russian elements in Ukraine.
In her testimony, Hill said that when she worked at the Kennedy School of Government, she interacted closely with the International Republican Institute in Moscow, where Kilimnik then worked.
“All of my staff thought he was a Russian spy at the time that I was working with,” Hill testified.
Trump’s apparent belief that Ukraine somehow interfered in the 2016 election on Clinton’s behalf was the impetus for the president to demand an investigation of a supposed DNC computer server that he falsely claims is now in Ukraine — based on the same conspiracy theory reportedly pushed by Kilimnik, via Manafort, who fed it to Trump, in 2016.
Trump demanded the investigation before he would release badly needed military aid to Ukraine, according to the allegations that are at the heart of the current impeachment inquiry against the president.
“Trump’s campaign manager fed his head with idiotic nonsense consistent with Manafort’s past work in Ukraine on behalf of pro-Russia interests,” wrote former FBI agent Clint Watts, author of the book, Messing With the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians, and Fake News, via Twitter. “Disinfo spread by Manafort, pushed in via Kilimnik still plagues today via (the) silly quid pro quo push on Ukraine.”