The impeachment drama is already a three-ring circus, with a full complement of clowns to the left and the right.
But if you’ve ever been to a three-ring-circus, you know that it’s hard to take it all in at once.
I want to focus on one detail that hasn’t gotten enough attention: the “missing” DNC server that the president believes might be in Ukraine.
If you’ve paid any attention to the impeachment drama, you know the basics. The center-ring story is that President Trump allegedly tried to pressure Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the new president of Ukraine (by withholding military aid and an Oval Office meeting) to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden by withholding military aid.
In his now-infamous phone call with Zelenskiy, Trump asked for a “favor” in two parts. The second part, which everyone focuses on, was the request for the Ukrainians to work with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General William Barr in an investigation of Biden and Biden’s son Hunter.
The first part of the favor is far less controversial. Trump asked Zelenskiy to look into the status of the DNC email server that the FBI and former special prosecutor Robert Mueller say was hacked by the Russians ahead of the 2016 election. Remember, this is the same Mueller whom the president cites for his “total exoneration” from the Russian collusion allegation.
According to the rough transcript released by the White House, Trump said, “I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people … The server, they say Ukraine has it.”
This favor is less controversial because Trump’s defenders don’t controvert it. It’s central to their defense. They concede Trump asked for this favor, contending that by the time Trump got to the “other thing” he wanted from Zelenskiy — an investigation of Biden — he was no longer asking for a “favor” at all. Trump would never ask for a quid pro quo to smear a political opponent, they insist. But asking for an investigation into the server? That’s entirely appropriate. After all, there’s an official investigation into how the FBI launched its Russia/Trump probe in the first place. Asking for help with that is wholly legitimate.
In White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s disastrous press conference two weeks ago, he admitted there was an attempted quid pro quo with Ukraine. (“Get over it,” he exclaimed.) But in Mulvaney’s version of events, it didn’t have anything to do with Biden. It did, however, have to do with “the corruption related to the DNC server.”
But here’s the thing: This is nuts.
There’s a conspiracy theory, popular in the Oval Office and the swampier corners of the internet, that the hacking of the DNC’s email servers wasn’t orchestrated by Russia but by Ukraine — to benefit Hillary Clinton!
This makes no sense for countless reasons we don’t have space for. But it’s worth noting that in the most popular version of this story, the DNC hack was an inside job, conducted by a low-level staffer named Seth Rich, who was then murdered to keep him from exposing the plot to frame the Russians.
CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm, was hired to analyze the server — which was actually more than 140 different servers. Rather than take possession of the server(s), CrowdStrike made digital copies of the whole shebang. This was allegedly a cover-up. As Trump tweeted in 2018, “Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t the FBI take possession of it? Deep State?”
It gets loopier. As Trump suggested in his call with Zelenskiy, the theory is that CrowdStrike is a Ukrainian-owned or Ukrainian-connected company. It’s not. It’s based in California, and the alleged Ukrainian co-founder of the company was born in Russia. The suggestion that “the server” is being hidden in some Ukrainian warehouse, like the Ark of the Covenant at the end of the first “Indiana Jones” movie, is straight-up bonkers.
In the words of Trump’s former homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, this “conspiracy theory” has “no validity” and “has been completely debunked.”
Reasonable people can disagree on what to make of all this. But when you hear Trump defenders talk about the “corruption related to the DNC server” as a way to deflect from the troubling allegation about the Biden investigation, it makes as much sense as saying “the corruption related to Jimmy Hoffa’s body in Ukraine” or “the corruption related to the atomic rabbit prowling the sewers of Kiev.” And that should be troubling, too.