At the heart of GOP impeachment inquiry, Kremlin propaganda

At the heart of GOP impeachment inquiry, Kremlin propaganda
Image via Creative Commons.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced Tuesday the opening of an impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden. The Republican leader outlined a series of allegations, but one of them stood apart from the others. “Biden used his official office to coordinate with Hunter Biden’s business partners about Hunter’s role in Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company,” he said.

Burisma – that name should be familiar. It was at the heart of Donald Trump’s first impeachment. In July 2019, during a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump demanded an investigation into whether then-Vice President Biden had urged, in 2016, the firing of that country’s leading prosecutor for investigating corruption at Burisma. (He wasn’t investigating corruption; more on that in a moment.) In exchange, Trump would release funding that was critical to Ukraine’s conflict with Russia. (This happened before the invasion, which elevated conflict to war.)

It was transparent quid pro quo. Trump would provide money that Ukraine desperately needed (money that was already appropriated by the Congress). In return, Zelensky would provide dirt on Trump’s likely 2020 challenger. For extorting a foreign ally into a conspiracy to defraud the American people, Trump was impeached by the House. (The Senate acquitted him.)

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Zelensky refused in part due to the truth about Viktor Shokin, who was the leading prosecutor whom Trump referred to. Shokin was dirty. Biden wanted him fired, but not because he was too hard on the company that his son worked for. (Hunter Biden sat on its board.) He wanted Shokin fired because he was too soft. Biden was speaking for the international community in demanding that Ukraine clean up its act, including corruption at Burisma.

This lie – that Biden helped his son enrich himself by abusing the power of the vice presidency – was at the heart of Trump’s first impeachment. It is now, according to this week’s announcement by the House speaker, at the heart of Biden’s impeachment inquiry (which is one of a series of steps taken by House investigators before the chamber votes on impeachment.) It is a lie that won’t die, according to some, because it’s a conspiracy theory.

It’s more than a conspiracy theory.

It’s Kremlin propaganda.

READ MORE: 'Hogwash': Pelosi dismisses McCarthy’s attempt to blame Biden impeachment inquiry on her

There was more on Donald Trump’s mind, during his phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, than quid pro quo. On his mind was the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which had ended only a few months beforehand, into the inference by the Russian government in the 2016 presidential election. That investigation showed conclusively that Russian operatives, under the personal direction of Vladimir Putin, sabotaged the campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton, thus enabling Trump’s victory.

During that meeting, Trump wanted to establish for a fact a conspiracy theory that had origins in the Kremlin: that Ukraine, not Russia, had attacked US sovereignty in 2016, and that Hillary Clinton, not himself, was the true culprit. He didn’t collude with Russia. She colluded with Ukraine. By winning, Trump thwarted America’s enemies and defended democracy.

Trump repeated a variation of this lie, which Putin himself had variously repeated, because the lie “works for the Russians, who want their enemies blamed for their crimes, and it works for Trump, who fears deeply being seen as a weak and illegitimate president,” I wrote in January 2020, during the first impeachment trial. “The conspiracy theory, as I have said before, makes Trump the original victim and the ultimate hero. By extorting Ukraine, he helped himself. By extorting Ukraine, he helped Russia.”

Trump appears to be picking up where he left off. Not only did he call prominent House Republicans, including Elise Stefanik, chair of the Republican conference, in order to urge them to impeach Joe Biden, according to CNN. He has successfully placed a key piece of Kremlin propaganda at the heart of the effort. With it in place, there’s the potential for Trump to complete unfinished business: replacing facts with lies, erasing history and undermining American sovereignty all over again.

READ MORE: 'Not afraid': McCarthy dares Republicans to oust him as his frustration with House GOP grows

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