Trump’s Ukraine Server Delusion Is Spreading

Look, we’ve written this before. So have a bunch of other outlets, for weeks on end, including today. Even Fox and Friends raised an eyebrow at the idea. But since Donald Trump persists, along with, now, his secretary of state, who should and one suspects does know better, we will write it once again: Ukraine does not have a DNC server. Give no quarter to any suggestion otherwise.

Where does this malignant conspiracy theory come from in the first place? Maybe Paul Manafort. Probably 4chan. Regardless, it has since stuck in the president’s brain like a Ceti eel placed by a wrathful Khan, burrowing deeper until it consumes whatever remains of rational thought. The story, as Trump recently posited on a marathon call-in to Fox and Friends, goes something like this:

“A lot of it had to do, they say, with Ukraine,” Trump said. “It’s very interesting. They have the server, right? From the DNC, Democratic National Committee. The FBI went in and they told them get out of here, we’re not giving it to you. They gave the server to CrowdStrike, or whatever it’s called, which is a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian, and I still want to see that server. 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?”

A light edit for coherence: Trump believes—and by all indications this is true belief, not posturing—that after the Democratic National Committee was hacked in 2016, the DNC gave a physical server to Ukrainian cybersecurity company CrowdStrike, and refused to let the FBI see the evidence. Trump further argues that the server in question now physically resides in Ukraine. Inside that server, Trump suggests, one would find evidence, gleaming like a Pulp Fiction briefcase, that Ukraine, not Russia, hacked the DNC in 2016.

“Are you sure they did that?” asked Fox and Friends host Steve Doocey.

To which Trump replied: “Well, that’s what the word is.”

Almost every aspect of this is demonstrably wrong. CrowdStrike is not a Ukrainian company. Its cofounder and chief technology officer, Dmitri Alperovitch, was born in Russia and has lived in the United States since his teenage years. The company is based in Sunnyvale, California, and went public this summer. As is standard in this sort of incident response, CrowdStrike never took physical possession of any DNC server. Its analysts instead captured an “image” of the hard drives and memories of affected machines, exact replicas that it could examine for signs of malfeasance. It handed all of that forensic evidence over to the FBI, which Department of Justice deputy assistant attorney general Adam Hickey confirmed just last month. And if the logical contortions required to view CrowdStrike as somehow partisan in all of this aren’t already enough, know that the company counts the Republican National Congressional Committee among its clients.

So: Not Ukrainian. No physical server. Not only was the FBI directly involved, but the DOJ indicted the Russian hackers responsible, and laid out in exquisite detail how they did it—and how CrowdStrike fought them off. You can read the indictment for yourself here. Start on page 10; CrowdStrike is Company 1.

Or read Volume I of the Mueller Report. Or the court documents from the lawsuit the DNC filed against Russian hackers, which lays bare the extent of the damage it suffered: more than 140 servers decommissioned, all software removed and reinstalled from 180 computers, 11 servers fully rebuilt. Not one of them currently residing in Ukraine.

When reached for comment, again, CrowdStrike directed us to its most recent statement and an explainer blog post the company has been updating since first detailing the hack in 2016.

Trump’s Ukraine server conspiracy theory is a chair with no legs. It requires willful ignorance of knowable facts, a commitment to the notion of truth as somehow mutable. And yet he earnestly asked Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate it in the fateful phone call that sparked the impeachment inquiry.

In some ways, this is all well-trod territory for the president, whose lies since taking office numbered over 12,000 as of August, an average of 13 false or misleading claims per day. But few are as easily disprovable, as demonstrably outlandish, as the Ukraine server conspiracy. More worrying still is that the conspiracy appears to have metastasized.

Look at the impeachment proceedings, when members of the House Intelligence Committee—each of them privy to sensitive information by virtue of their assignments, not that they even need it in this case—repeatedly winked at Ukraine conspiracies.

“Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country and that perhaps, somehow for some reason, Ukraine did,” former National Security Council official Fiona Hill said in her opening statement last week. “This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”

Look at senator Joe Kennedy of Louisiana, who on Fox News this weekend claimed that “I don’t know, nor do you, nor do any of us,” who was responsible for 2016 election interference. “It could also be Ukraine,” Kennedy said. On Monday, Kennedy trotted back his statement, saying flatly that he was wrong on CNN. One wonders how many Fox viewers saw the retraction.

Or look at secretary of state Mike Pompeo, formerly head of the Central Intelligence Agency, who in a press conference on Tuesday said that “anytime there is information that indicates that any country has messed with American elections, we not only have a right but a duty to make sure we chase that down.” He was responding to a question about whether Ukraine, not Russia, hacked the DNC.

The Ukraine server conspiracy matters not only because it’s wrong, or because it empowers and absolves Russia, or because it weakens the strategically vital relationship between the US and Ukraine for no discernible benefit. It also matters because it puts in sharp relief how divorced the president is from reality, and the apparent lack of willingness or ability of those around him to set the record straight. And the more he and they repeat the lie, the more it seems true to the people who hear it.

The torrent of lies Trump and his enablers have sent rushing over the DNC server story threaten to wear the truth to a nub. So yes, we’ll keep writing about it. There’s no “server.” It’s not in Ukraine. The story is the same, and always will be.

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