We don’t talk enough about how central disinformation is to the Ukraine scandal. The extortion of Ukraine was at bottom an effort to enlist a foreign power’s help in waging disinformation warfare in the 2020 election, to Trump’s benefit. Disinformation was central to the 2016 Russian attack on our political system, which Trump eagerly embraced. Now disinformation is being employed to escape accountability for all of it.
Two new developments attest to this point: a remarkable pair of revelatory tweets from Giuliani, and a tour de force of reporting in The Post, which reveals that Trump routinely communicated throughout the whole saga with Giuliani on unsecured devices, which may have been vulnerable to monitoring by Russia.
Giuliani’s tweets are revealing, and not in a good way
“The conversation about corruption in Ukraine was based on compelling evidence of criminal conduct by then VP Biden,” Giuliani tweeted, referring to Joe Biden, the intended target of “investigations” Trump and Giuliani pressured Ukraine to announce.
To empirically grounded observers, this will blow up a key Trump defense: that in conditioning official acts on getting Ukraine to announce the investigations he wanted, he was correctly concerned with cleaning up corruption there.
After all, Giuliani just confirmed that in pressuring Ukraine, “investigate corruption” actually meant, “smear Trump’s political rival.” We already knew this — Giuliani and Trump have said it publicly for months — but that’s an unusually stark way to admit it.
Yet Giuliani doesn’t view this as an admission at all. Why not? Because he also stated that Biden was, in fact, guilty of unstated “criminal conduct,” that Biden and other Democrats had conspired with Ukrainian corruption, and that Giuliani would produce proof.
The Biden corruption narrative Giuliani has worked to validate has been thoroughly debunked. But Giuliani can make it true by saying it, and by producing fake “evidence” backing it up.
This amounts to more than conventional political lying. You see this in Giuliani’s crucial next step: the creation of a disinformational narrative hermetically sealed off from outside facts can magically transform even a demand for investigations into Biden from a corrupt demand that a foreign power help rig our election by smearing a political opponent into a virtuous demand for investigations into “corruption.”
This scandal is all about disinformation
Making this narrative “true,” via the triumph of disinformation, is at the core of this entire scandal. It is why the White House meeting and hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid were conditioned on getting Ukraine to release statements validating that narrative with disinformation, along with another fictional narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in 2016, in collusion with Democrats.
Meanwhile, Giuliani is literally producing a fake “documentary” that will “prove” these theories. Trump’s attorney general, William P. Barr, is traveling the world to try to validate parts of the Ukraine-2016 lie, and he’s even preparing to dispute the Justice Department inspector general’s conclusion that it’s nonsense.
You cannot watch House Republicans, or Sean Hannity, rant about this bundle of theories without concluding we’re witnessing something very different from routine political lying here.
Our own intelligence services have confirmed that the 2016-Ukraine lie has been a mainstay of Russian disinformation for years. This is the through line back to 2016: The Russian attack on our political system was in large part disinformation warfare, to sow social discord and undermine liberal democracy.
Even the GOP-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee has elaborated on this disinformation warfare in great detail. Perversely, the current disinformation effort is about making that 2016 disinformation warfare disappear. Trump and Russia have a common interest in doing that, because Trump benefited from and participated in that effort.
Trump’s unsecured connection
The Post documents in extraordinary detail that unsecured communications between Trump and Giuliani were vulnerable to Russian eavesdropping throughout their efforts to extort Ukraine. As experts note, this likely means Russia knew of them in real time — possibly before the whistleblower first exposed them.
All this meant Moscow could “exploit” this knowledge:
Insight into Giuliani’s discussions with Trump could enable Moscow to adapt or amplify its propaganda promoting the baseless claim that Ukraine, rather than Russia, hacked the Democratic National Committee in the 2016 U.S. election. That claim is now widely embraced by Trump’s Republican allies. Russia is already using its disinformation capabilities to target U.S. citizens, officials said, and could enlist its own operatives in Ukraine to feed false information to Giuliani.
In other words, Trump’s unsecured conversations left us further vulnerable to Russian disinformation.
None of this is to endorse in any way the “Trump is a Russian asset” narrative, and no one should assume Trump has deliberately left us vulnerable to Russian disinformation. Indeed, it’s often hard to say where Trump’s own disinformation ends and where Russia’s begins.
But what we can say is that the disinformation employed by Giuliani, Trump and his GOP defenders in many ways overlaps with Russian disinformation. They share tropes and narratives, and some common goals.
And it’s evident that Trump may not care if we’re more vulnerable to Russian disinformation, since he benefited from it so extensively last time, and is now heavily trafficking in its offshoots himself. As Giuliani’s latest confession shows, their commitment to employing and benefiting from it is only escalating.
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