White House

State Dept. watchdog gives Congress ‘propaganda’ materials on Ukraine conspiracies

The State Department inspector general provided material to congressional staff on Wednesday detailing “conspiracy theories” related to the Ukraine controversy that is at the center of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

The inspector general, Steve Linick, handed over documents at a bipartisan gathering of lawmakers and staff from several House and Senate committees that related to a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted from her post in May and is scheduled for a deposition with lawmakers regarding events that led to the impeachment probe next week.

Emerging from the briefing, Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland, said that documents presented by Linick related to efforts to “smear a number of employees who were getting in the way of the president.”

A Democratic congressional aide told McClatchy that attendees spent a significant time pressing Linick on alleged intimidation of career diplomats from State Department leadership.

“The meeting had a serious focus on the fact that people at the State Department, either whistleblowers or people with relevant but damaging information, have been blocked from coming forward to Congress,” the aide said.

Trump continues to entertain a fringe theory that the origins of the Russia probe were hatched in Ukraine – despite the intelligence community concluding that Moscow “systematically” interfered in the 2016 race on his behalf.

“It’s essentially a packet of propaganda spreading conspiracy theories. Those conspiracy theories have been widely debunked and discredited,” said Raskin, who attended the briefing.

“There’s been an attempt to create a narrative that would somehow justify what the president did,” Raskin continued. “From our perspective all of it is completely and totally irrelevant. This is an irrelevant distraction from the matter at hand.”

The inspector general requested the briefing within 24 hours, in the context of a fast-moving impeachment inquiry into the president’s efforts to recruit Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate one of his potential political rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his family members. Raskin said Biden was mentioned in the folder.

in a phone call on July 25, Trump asked Zelensky to look in to the Bidens, according to White House notes from the call. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged on Wednesday that he was also on the call.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, announced a formal impeachment inquiry last week into the matter, granting three powerful House committees the ability to investigate.

Those three House committee chairmen leading the impeachment investigation – Adam Schiff of California, Eliot Engel of New York and Elijah Cummings of Maryland – wrote to Pompeo on Tuesday accusing him of “intimidating Department witnesses in order to protect himself and the president,” after the secretary declined to provide department personnel for depositions on their requested timeframes.

The U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, left his post last week, and will be deposed on Thursday on Capitol Hill.

Yovanovitch is scheduled to be deposed on October 11.

This version updates throughout after the inspector general briefing.

Michael Wilner joined McClatchy as its White House correspondent in 2019. He previously served as Washington bureau chief for The Jerusalem Post, where he led coverage of the Iran nuclear talks, the Syrian refugee crisis and the 2016 US presidential campaign. Wilner holds degrees from Claremont McKenna College and Columbia University and is a native of New York City.
Alex Daugherty is the Washington correspondent for the Miami Herald, covering South Florida from the nation’s capital. Previously, he worked as the Washington correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and for the Herald covering politics in Miami.