On a Friday when Donald Trump posted to his Twitter account 48 times, continuing his prolific pace of tweeting throughout the month of December, it was the 34th of those tweets — posted at 10:30 p.m. in the evening EST — that drew perhaps the closest scrutiny. In that Twitter message, Trump appeared to cite Russian President Vladimir Putin for support in Trump’s claim that the investigation that led to his impeachment this week was, in Trump’s words, “A total Witch Hunt!”
Trump made the “Witch Hunt” comment on a retweet of a news story that reported Putin’s defense of Trump in the impeachment case.
In his annual press conference in Moscow a day earlier, Putin charged that the reasons for Trump’s impeachment were “completely fabricated.” Putin also echoed Trump’s often-repeated contention that impeachment represented nothing more than Democrats attempting to overturn the results of the 2016 election.
Trump was impeached on abuse of power and obstruction charges that grew out of his efforts to pressure the government of Ukraine into announcing unfounded investigations into Democrat Joe Biden — as well as into a widely debunked “theory” that it was Ukraine, not Russia, who interfered in the 2016 election, on behalf of Democrat Hillary Clinton, rather than himself. Trump has repeatedly, and at least since 2017, expressed his belief that the Ukraine story is true, and that the conclusions of three major United States investigations into the election attack are false.
But according to published reports earlier in the week, Putin himself was the source who fed Trump the false belief that Ukraine, not Russia, carried out the election attack. The Ukraine “theory” has also been identified by the U.S. intelligence community as disinformation created by Russian intelligence services.
On Friday, a few hours before Trump posted his “Witch Hunt” tweet that cited Putin for support, The Washington Post published a report analyzing the timeline of Trump’s statements advocating the Ukraine interference claims, and how that timeline corresponded to Trump’s known one-on-one communications with Putin, either in person or via telephone.
Among numerous correspondences between the two timelines, Post reporter Philip Bump showed that Putin and Trump are believed to have first spoken one-on-one on November 14, 2016, six days after the presidential election. Less than one month later — and two days after reports that Russia interfered with the election were made public — Trump made a statement that countries other than Russia may have interfered in the election.
Trump again spoke to Putin on April 3, 2017. On April 26, Trump first publicly suggested that Ukraine was somehow linked to a Democratic computer server that had been hacked during the election campaign.
Bump reported that Trump himself has mentioned speaking with Putin about Ukraine on about two dozen occasions.
“It seems unlikely that those conversations were focused solely on Trump’s theory of how to achieve peace between the two countries,” the Washington Post reporter wrote.