Mike Pompeo is the secretary of state, and before that, he was the CIA director. That means he is privy to the best government information that exists — including extensive information collected by U.S. intelligence services — showing that Russia, not Ukraine, is the country that interfered in the 2016 election, on President Trump’s behalf.

Which makes it doubling galling that Pompeo, in remarks to reporters, appeared to lend some credence to the conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, hacked into our elections — the very same conspiracy theory, of course, that is at the center of the ongoing impeachment of the president.

Pompeo was asked this question: “Do you believe that the U.S. and Ukraine should investigate the theory that it was Ukraine and not Russia that hacked the DNC emails in 2016?”

“Any time 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,” Pompeo replied.

Pompeo suggested that his time as CIA director persuaded him that many countries and nonstate actors tried to interfere in our election.

Pompeo added that when “we have information that so much as suggests that there might have been interference, or an effort to interfere in our elections, we have an obligation” to combat “these malevolent actors trying to undermine our Western democratic values.”

“America should leave no stone unturned,” Pompeo also said. Here’s the video:

That’s weaselly language, and it stops just short of endorsing the idea that Ukraine hacked our elections. But it absolutely does endorse the idea that this question continues to be worthy of investigation.

That’s ludicrous. But maintaining this fiction is absolutely central to Trump’s political needs.

First, it allows Trump and his propagandists to argue that he was right to pressure Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to “investigate” this matter, on the grounds that he was the victim and merely wanted to get to the bottom of his victimization.

This absurd notion is at the heart of the case that Senate Republicans plan to build at his impeachment trial, in his defense. So Pompeo is tacitly lending that effort some support by validating this theory, however obliquely.

And second, this theory is supposed to absolve Russia of its role in sabotaging the 2016 election — and by extension the Trump campaign’s extensive efforts to coordinate with and benefit from it.

Pompeo did not make the second argument — but in a way, this underscores another sense in which this is so utterly ridiculous on Pompeo’s part.

Indeed, Pompeo has repeatedly conceded — see here and here — that Russia did interfere in our elections in 2016. So Pompeo is now feeling his way toward a new and emerging position among Republicans: Yes, Russia was the primary country that interfered in our elections, but maybe, just maybe, Ukraine might have as well.

That’s the position that Sen. John Neely Kennedy of Louisiana took on Sunday, to widespread mockery.

But now this is coming from the secretary of state — and the former CIA director. To reiterate, he knows what the intelligence shows on this topic. And there is zero indication that it does show any validity to the notion that Ukraine might have interfered in our elections.

Indeed, intelligence officials just briefed Republican senators on this point, telling them that not only is the 2016 Ukraine conspiracy theory nonsense, but that it’s also been a mainstay of Russian self-absolving propaganda and disinformation for years.

Pompeo knows this — yet he’s subtly validating the theory anyway.

“It defies belief that Pompeo would not have seen the same intelligence that has led the U.S. intelligence community, as well as members of Congress, to conclude that the whole notion is a conspiracy theory,” Joshua Geltzer, a former senior counterterrorism official, told me. “It’s almost certain that, given his CIA role, Pompeo would have seen even more than has been made public and perhaps even more than Congress has been briefed on.”

Pompeo’s latest is another reminder that this whole scandal goes far beyond Trump and even his lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, the ringleader of the whole Ukraine extortion scheme. It involves multiple Cabinet officials and top advisers, and large swaths of the government.

All this has been placed at the disposal of Trump’s reelection campaign, his efforts to obscure the last round of foreign interference on his behalf and to solicit another round of the same, and his efforts to cover all of it up.

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