Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton walks off the stage as Republican nominee Donald Trump remains at his podium after their third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate in Las Vegas, Nev., Oct. 19, 2016. 
Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

Trump’s obsession with Clinton emails isn’t just about Clinton emails

The Rachel Maddow Show, 9/25/19, 9:18 PM ET

Trump pressed Ukraine on theory to clear Russia in 2016 hack

Rachel Maddow points out that the Donald Trump Ukraine call notes reveal that beyond asking Ukraine for dirt on Joe Biden, Trump also pressed for information related to a conspiracy theory designed to exonerate Russia for its role in hacking the DNC in
Donald Trump sat down with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky yesterday in New York, and about halfway through their Q&A with reporters, someone asked the American leader whether he believes there are hidden Hillary Clinton emails in Ukraine.

“I think they could be,” the Republican replied. “You mean the 30,000 that she deleted? Yeah, I think they could very well. Boy, that was a nice question. I like that question.”

Trump proceeded to ramble for another 247 words about his former Democratic rival, her “great crimes,” and the United States’ “corrupt government.” It was all plainly ridiculous, even by this president’s standards.

But in context, there’s a reason the email-related question came up in the first place, and it stems from the suddenly infamous phone call between Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart two months ago. After Zelenskiy explained to the American leader how eager Ukraine is to get more military assistance from the United States, Trump quickly shifted to what he expected from Zelenskiy.

“I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine. They say CrowdStrike,” Trump told Zelenskiy, according to the text of the call made public Wednesday by the Trump administration. “The server, they say Ukraine has it.”

He continued: “I would like to have the attorney general call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it.”

Obviously, the word “though” was doing a lot of work in that sentence, and it bolsters allegations that the presidents’ conversation included a not-so-subtle quid pro quo. But it’s the nature of the “favor” the Republican asked for that’s worth considering – because while Trump obviously pressed the Ukrainian leader for assistance in his 2020 re-election campaign, that came after Trump pressed Zelensky for help related to Clinton’s emails and the hack of the Democratic National Committee’servers.

It’s worth understanding why, nearly three years removed from the 2016 election, Trump would maintain this obsession.

In case this isn’t already obvious, the basis for Trump’s requested “favor” is a crackpot conspiracy theory that’s plainly absurd. And while that’s certainly a relevant detail, the larger question is why, even in 2019, he’s made this crackpot conspiracy theory such a priority.

From Trump’s perspective, if there’s evidence that the conspiracy theory is true – there isn’t, of course, because it’s ridiculous, but if he could uncover such evidence – then he could claim that the United States’ intelligence agencies were wrong; Vladimir Putin is right; and Russia didn’t really attack the 2016 elections after all.

In other words, the White House has now confirmed that Trump wanted Zelensky’s help in finding evidence that Russia – the country that invaded Ukraine and took part of Ukraine by force – is innocent.

We know why the American president wants Ukrainian assistance ahead of the 2020 race: Trump is desperate to win. But understanding why the Republican is pursuing nonsense related to the 2016 race with such vigor is more difficult.

Is Trump trying to remove the asterisk from his election victory? Is he harboring some unhealthy Clinton-related fixation for reasons unknown? Or is he trying to help his benefactors in Moscow, who are still facing sanctions as a result of their attack on our elections?