New reports out Tuesday add more context to President Trump's view of Ukraine before he made his famous call to that nation's leader in July. The upshot is that Vladimir Putin and Hungary's Viktor Orban each bad-mouthed Ukraine as a corrupt nation to Trump, reinforcing what he was being told by Rudy Giuliani. All of which "set the stage for events that led to the impeachment inquiry against him," per the New York Times. Details:
- Putin: The Russian leader spoke with Trump by phone in May, and he "did what he always does" in denigrating Ukraine, a former US official tells the Washington Post. "He has always said Ukraine is just a den of corruption."
- Orban: The Hungarian leader met with Trump at the White House, also in May, and "exposed him to a harsh indictment of Ukraine" around the same time Trump was hearing the same from Giuliani, reports the Times. The newspaper adds that the meeting itself was controversial, because Orban is viewed as a hard-line autocrat. Then-national security adviser John Bolton opposed the meeting, but chief of staff Mick Mulvaney prevailed in making it happen.
- The effect: Putin and Orban "soured Trump's attitude toward Ukraine," according to State Department official George Kent, who testified in the impeachment hearings last week, per the AP. Ten days after his meeting with Orban, Trump met with top advisers on Ukraine and said Ukrainians were "terrible people" who "tried to take me down" in the 2016 election, reports the Times.
- The server: The "tried to take me down" reference is apparently about Trump's belief in a widely debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election and tried to damage his candidacy. In his phone call with Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump asked him to dig up a hacked Democratic National Committee server, supposedly spirited to the country as part of a cover-up, to prove it. The AP digs into the particulars of the "CrowdStrike" (the name of a security company) conspiracy theory.
- A big qualifier: Putin and Orban may have bad-mouthed Ukraine, but they didn't encourage Trump to get the nation to dig up dirt on political opponents, nor did they back the election conspiracy theory, reports the Post.
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