At Wednesday's televised impeachment hearing, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, quoted a Ukrainian politician to support Nunes' belief that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 United States presidential election. But, that politician, Andrey Artemenko, attended Donald Trump's inauguration and worked with Trump allies Michael Cohen and Felix Sater to push a Ukraine "peace plan" that would allow the Trump administration to drop sanctions on Russia, according to a New York Times report.
Nunes' quotation of Artemenko by Nunes came in his questioning of acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor, and is posted online via the CNN YouTube channel. Nunes cited a 2017 Politico article that he said documented the alleged Ukrainian interference on behalf of Hillary Clinton.
"It quotes Ukrainian Parliamentarian Andrey Artemenko saying, 'It was clear they were supporting Hillary Clinton's candidacy,'" Nunes read aloud at the hearing. "They did everything from organizing meetings with the Clinton team to publicly supporting her to criticizing Trump."
But on Twitter, journalists quickly pointed out that Artemenko may not a reliable source, because he, himself, is close to Trump's inner circle. Time reporter Simon Shuster, who covers Ukraine, said that Artemenko "once told me that he is an 'active Trumpist.'"
In January of 2017, Artemenko met in New York City with Cohen and Sater to hand over a draft of the "peace plan," which included terms highly favorable to Russia — including the possibility that Ukraine would "lease" the territory of Crimea to Russia for a period of up to 100 years. The plan would have also required the United States to lift economic sanctions against Russia, The Times reported.
Journalist Seth Abramson, author of the New York Times bestseller Proof of Collusion, Nunes' citation of Artemenko to support the theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election was a tactical "mistake," because it now raises questions over whether Artemenko may have helped to concoct that theory.
"Many will now ask whether Artemenko also worked with Team Trump to build the CrowdStrike conspiracy theory," Abramson wrote on his Twitter account.
The widely debunked theory alleging that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election would also exonerating Russia as the victim of a frame-up. The theory appears to have been adopted by Trump as far back as 2016, after it was introduced to the campaign by Konstantin Kilimnik, who was described as a "Russian spy" by former Trump adviser Fiona Hill in her own impeachment testimony.
CrowdStrike is the cybersecurity firm that first traced the hacking of Democratic Party email servers in 2016 to Russian intelligence agencies. That conclusion has since been confirmed by three major investigations by the U.S. intelligence community, the Senate Intelligence Committee, and special counsel Robert Mueller.
But, according to the theory, CrowdStrike was actually part of a Ukrainian operation to frame Russia for the 2016 election interference, and that the company seized an email server containing thousands of "missing" emails. That server — which does not actually exist — is supposedly now in Ukraine, according to the conspiracy theory.
Trump himself appears to believe the Ukraine-interference claim. In his July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky — the call which sparked the impeachment inquiry — Trump asked Zelensky to investigate CrowdStrike and "the server" as "a favor." Trump has also mentioned "the server" frequently in public comments to the press.