The Slatest

Where Did Trump’s Ukraine Conspiracy Obsession Originate? Aides Say “Putin Told Him.”

President Trump and President Putin lean in to have a quiet conversation on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Hamburg.
Psst…
AFP Contributor/Getty Images

This much we do know: Whatever Donald Trump knows about Ukraine, he didn’t read it in a book. That leaves Twitter and, according to the Washington Post’s report, Vladimir Putin as possible fonts of totally reliable information on which the president of the United States relies. Senior aides told the Post that throughout Trump’s time in the White House, the president has regurgitated information believed to have been relayed during his private meetings with the Russian president. What did Putin have to say? It was Urkaine, not little old Russia, that was the real culprit behind the 2016 election interference—all in an attempt to take down Trump’s candidacy. It was a conspiracy theory that served both men.

The Post surveyed 15 former administration and government officials for their views on how Trump’s brain glommed on to Ukraine being the real villain, a conspiracy theory that the president has been harping on since he stepped foot in the White House in January 2017. After Trump and Putin had a bizarre private meeting on the sidelines of the July 2017 G-20 summit in Hamburg, where Trump later demanded the U.S. interpreter’s notes, aides told the Post that Trump grew even more insistent Ukraine was the true election meddler. This seed of misinformation sprouted in Trump’s mind despite repeated declarations from his own intelligence community that Russia, not Ukraine, had taken active measures to influence the election result. According to a Trump adviser, at one point, the president substantiated his views on Ukraine saying: “Putin told me.” “He would say: ‘This is ridiculous. Everyone knows I won the election. The greatest election in the world. The Russians didn’t do anything. The Ukrainians tried to do something,’ ” one former official said of Trump’s thinking.

Now, of course, the entirety of the Republican Party is out toeing the Trump conspiracy line on nationally televised hearings, one that squares with the fundamental narrative of Russian state propaganda, which pushes story after story that Ukraine is the enemy, often defying logic and previous accusations, in order to confuse observers into numbness such they tune out and don’t believe anything at all. Sound familiar? If you’ve ever heard of the existence of a “DNC server in Ukraine” from an American elected official, say Rep. Jim Jordan or Devin Nunes, or that whirling dervish of madness Rudy Giuliani, then the pinprick of misinformation in Trump’s thick skull has already worked. It prompted a geyser out of his mouth. No matter that the claim doesn’t even really make sense, it apparently doesn’t need to.

How do you pinpoint the origin of an idea? It’s often murky, so it seems foolish to draw the line in ink directly to Putin, as the presence of Russia-friendly characters up and down the roster of Trump associates likely also played a part. Trump’s campaign manager was Paul Manafort after all. And then there’s Twitter, where the CrowdStrike server conspiracy theory lurked until Trump activated it, repeating it and animating it for the entire country. That might be Trump’s embellishment on the original narrative, but it’s important to remember where that came from. “The strong belief in the White House was that Putin told him,” a former official said.