In late September, when the White House released a call summary of Donald Trump's phone meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the public learned of the kind of "favors" the Republican sought from his counterpart. Trump didn't just want Kyiv to go after one of his domestic rivals; he also brought a crackpot conspiracy theory.
"This whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike," the call summary quotes Trump saying. "I guess you have one of your wealthy people... The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation."
A week later, as the New York Times reported, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Trump's request to Zelensky, despite the fact that the Crowdstrike conspiracy theory is both ridiculous and discredited. As the report from early October explained, Pompeo said it was "the 'duty' of the Trump administration to pursue whether efforts to tamper in the United States election were rooted in Ukraine, even though the American intelligence agencies have long concluded Russia was to blame."
Nearly two months later, as The Daily Beast noted, the secretary of State's line hasn't improved.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested in a Tuesday press conference that a conspiracy theory that Ukraine and not Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016 is a legitimate line of inquiry.Asked if the U.S. and Ukraine should investigate whether "Ukraine and not Russia hacked the DNC," Pompeo, who previously served as CIA director, replied: "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."
It's worth emphasizing that Pompeo did not explicitly endorse the unhinged conspiracy theory or accuse Ukraine, by name, of any wrongdoing.
But the Kansas Republican's rhetoric seemed to leave open the possibility that the discredited conspiracy theory has merit, enough to warrant official examination. Pompeo could've used this opportunity to make clear that the U.S. government holds Russia responsible for Russia's attack on our elections -- but he didn't.
Indeed, look at that quote again: "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."
Among the problems with this is the fact that there is no "Information that indicates" Ukraine "messed with American elections." There's only Russian disinformation, which Donald Trump, for some reason, has been a little too eager to embrace.
By talking about "chasing that down," Pompeo made it sound as if there was a credible lead worthy of real scrutiny. There wasn't, and there still isn't.
There's every reason to believe Pompeo is aware of these facts, since he was, among other things, the director of the CIA when the agency concluded that Russia attacked our elections and Ukraine didn't.
The secretary of State added this morning, "I can assure you that there were many countries that were actively engaged in trying to undermine American democracy, our rule of law, the fundamental understandings we have here in the United States, and you should know we were diligently, diligently working to make sure we addressed each of them with every tool of American power that we had."
Again, the rhetoric about "many countries" appears designed to obscure the simple truth Team Trump doesn't seem comfortable acknowledging: Russia did it.
Pompeo went on to say the United States would examine all allegations "whomever it is" and "whatever nation it is."
If he could just focus a bit and bring himself to acknowledge his own country's findings, it'd be a step in the right direction. But it's a step Pompeo appears reluctant to take, probably because his boss keeps publicly taking the nonsense seriously.