OP-ED: Trump is still obsessed with 2016
Following the release of the summary of President Donald Trump’s July 25 phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart, Democrats are focusing on whether he was trying to enlist a foreign government to help him win the 2020 election. Call it Collusion 2.0: Last time Trump was looking for help from Russia, this time it’s Ukraine.
It’s not that simple, of course — not least because, judging from the call, Trump is still obsessed with 2016. In fact, he may be as preoccupied with that election as his would-be impeachers.
The key passage is on Page 3. After Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy thanks Trump for selling anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, Trump proceeds to ask his interlocutor a favor. “I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike,” he said. “I guess you have one of your wealthy people. ... The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation.”
It’s difficult to know exactly what Trump is talking about, but it appears to be a reference to a fringe theory that the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, which the Democratic National Committee hired in 2016 after it was hacked, is closely aligned with the Ukrainian government. Furthermore, Trump seems to think there is a “missing server” that is still in Ukraine.
This is all nonsense. As Wired reported Wednesday, there is nothing to support the conspiracy theory that CrowdStrike is connected to Ukraine. What’s more, Trump’s contention that there is a missing DNC server in Ukraine is not supported by any facts.
Only later in the conversation does Trump turn to former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. This is where Democrats have charged that Trump is strong-arming Zelenskiy to reopen an investigation into Burisma Energy, on whose board Hunter Biden served and for which he was richly compensated. In 2016, Biden urged Zelenskiy’s predecessor to fire the prosecutor, who has claimed he was investigating Burisma. That very prosecutor, however, was despised by Ukrainian reformers for refusing to investigate corruption.
At any rate, it appears that Trump is more interested in relitigating 2016. Witness his press conference in New York Wednesday with Zelenskiy himself. When asked if it was appropriate to have his personal attorney, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, involved in government business, Trump went on a rant about how he was looking into the origins of 2016 Russian collusion investigation. Trump then went on to talk about Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails.
None of this gets Trump off the hook. Presidents should not use their power to pursue personal vendettas. It does, however, help explain why he and his supporters seem so eager to wage war with congressional Democrats over impeachment. Trump believes there are two standards of justice: Clinton was presumed innocent during the investigation of her official use of a private server. He is presumed guilty of colluding with the Russians in their hack of his opponents’ server — despite the failure of investigators to find any evidence for that conspiracy.
This does not excuse a sitting president asking a foreign power to investigate a rival on his behalf. But the reason Trump and his supporters don’t seem to care about the violation of this norm is that they never believed their opponents adhered to them, either.
— Eli Lake is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering national security and foreign policy. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI.