Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

About That ‘Favor’ Trump Wanted From Ukraine

It might not be the most impeachable thing in the memo, but it’s still bonkers.
September 25, 2019
About That ‘Favor’ Trump Wanted From Ukraine
Donald Trump. (Photo credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

While President Trump’s requests that Ukrainian President Zelensky investigate a bogus nontroversy about his best polling rival will rightly draw all of the attention and discussion in the coming days, I was struck by another part of the call read-out provided by the White House. 

After a brief congratulations and some gratuitous swipes at Angela Merkel and Robert Mueller, Trump quickly pivots the conversation to asking Zelensky to “do us a favor.”

I would like you to do us a favor because the country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike…I guess you have one of your wealthy people…The server, they say Ukraine has it. 

Now it’s a little hard to wade through the Trumpian word salad and the heavy lifting ellipses to know exactly what the hell it is Trump is talking about there. But his allies have indicated that this is an important exculpatory matter: Mitch McConnell strategist Josh Holmes tweeted, “The crowd strike reference is clearly newsworthy and utterly lost on everyone. I’m guessing this is in reference to the ongoing investigation into the Russian election interference. Crowdstrike was the firm who the DNC hired after it was hacked.”  Rep. Mark Meadows tweeted, “Seeing some political conflation about two sections of the report: The “favor” section of the call is referencing “crowdstrike,” or an investigation into election interference.” 

So if that is the “favor” that merits attention, what exactly is it that Trump is asking a foreign president to investigate when it comes to the American company, CrowdStrike? While some speculated that Trump was referring to Hillary Clinton’s private email server, the tweets from Holmes and Meadows and this story from ABC News suggest something else.

One possibility is that there is a redacted national security issue at play and — as Holmes suggests — the president is responsibly trying to get some intelligence about the Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee in the 2016 election, related to the cyberfirm the DNC hired to analyze said hack. 

But what seems more likely is that Trump is following up on a long-time hobby horse of his, the conspiracy that the DNC server hack was actually an inside job and that the Russians didn’t really interfere in the 2016 elections after all. 

Two days before Trump’s infamous summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, where he sided with the Russian strong-man in a press conference saying “I don’t see any reason why it would be [Russia]” regarding the 2016 election hacking, he tweeted “Where is the DNC server, and why didn’t the FBI take possession of it? Deep state?” 

At the center of this rhetorical question was CrowdStrike, the company that analyzed the DNC server. In the warped minds of Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Sean Hannity, and a lot of random Twitter accounts that are totally people and definitely not bots, the Russians never actually hacked the DNC server. It was instead a staffer, at the committee, who provided the emails to Julian Assange and then was murdered by the Clintons. You think they are just playing pretend when they talk about this on TV  or tweet about it (which Giuliani did less than a month ago), but no, I’m sorry to report, the most powerful person in the world, with access to the best intelligence in the world, truly believes this half-baked Gateway Pundit shit

You know who else was obsessed with the CrowdStrike conspiracy? Longtime Trump henchman Roger Stone. Stone and his attorneys argued that the 2016 DNC hack was an inside job and that CrowdStrike tampered with the server. He submitted affidavits claiming that Russia was an unlikely source for the files and thus the warrants for his arrest for his collusion with Russian hackers Guccifer 2.0. 

So when Trump asked Zelensky about the “server” that Ukraine has, it seems likely that he is hoping to get information that will prove once and for all that Russia didn’t actually do what it did, that Vladimir Putin can be the friend that he’s always wanted, and that he is a legitimate president and a very good boy indeed. 

That the president even possibly believes this is crazy and dangerous enough. But why would he think that Zelensky would be able to help prove this conspiracy? Vice, which has been following this bizarre storyline for a while now, notes that in a 2017 interview with the AP, Trump said that CrowdStrike is Ukraine-based. “They brought in another company that I hear is Ukrainian-based…That’s what I heard. That it’s owned by a very rich Ukrainian, that’s what I heard.”  (This is … not accurate; the company is based in California.) 

The rich Ukrainian Trump referenced when talking to the AP sounds strikingly similar to his reference on the call with Zelensky to “one of your wealthy people.” CNET reports that Trump may be referring to CrowdStrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovich, a U.S. citizen who was born in Russia. It is unclear why he hasn’t been disabused of the notion that Alperovich is Ukrainian or that the company is based there in the two years since that interview took place. 

Given that background, it seems likely that the favor Trump asked for on the call was for the Ukrainian president to look into an American company, with a non-existent Ukranian CEO, to verify a conspiracy theory — one that has been debunked by his own intelligence agencies and Department of Justice — which would reveal that the Russians didn’t actually hack the DNC, that the leaked emails came from a midlevel staffer who was then murdered by the Clintons. 

And that bonkers, insane request would end up being the less damning of the two requests Trump made of the newly elected president while delaying military aide to the country. 


Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.