- Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban reportedly reinforced Trump‘s view that Ukraine was a “hopelessly corrupt” country.
- Current and former US officials told The Washington Post that Putin and Orban, along with Trump‘s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, reinforced negative views of Ukraine.
- Trump discussed investigating his political rival former Vice President Joe Biden during a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
- During the call, Trump also pushed an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory about Ukraine’s involvement in efforts to undermine him during the 2016 election.
- His conversation with Zelensky and the possible solicitation of foreign influence in the election are at the center of the House impeachment inquiry against Trump.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban urged President Donald Trump to adopt a “hostile view” of Ukraine which helped reinforce the notion that the country was “hopelessly corrupt,” The Washington Post reported on Monday.
Current and former US officials told The Post that Trump‘s conversations with Putin, Orban, and others in recent months appeared to strengthen Trump‘s view that Ukraine was a corrupt country and put him at odds with White House officials who struggled to dissuade Trump from exploiting the country for political purposes.
“He has always said Ukraine is just a den of corruption,” a US official said.
Trump also met with Orban, who has aligned himself with Putin, at the White House in May, around the time that Zelensky assumed office. Senior US diplomats told The Post that the May meeting between Trump and Orban “solidified” Trump‘s views on Zelensky.
Neither Putin nor Orban directly encouraged Trump to press Ukraine for damaging information on his political opponents, the officials said, nor did they push the unsubstantiated conspiracy theory about Ukraine’s involvement in efforts to undermine him during the 2016 election.
Trump‘s relationship with Ukraine has come under scrutiny in the wake of a whistleblower complaint filed in August, which detailed concerns that Trump had pressured Ukraine to aid him politically by investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son on allegations of corruption. The complaint centers around a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky; the White House has since released a summary of the call.
The Zelensky phone call has since become the launching pad for Democrats in their impeachment inquiry.
US officials stressed to The Post that while Putin and Orban have slammed Ukraine, Trump‘s decision to press Zelensky to investigate his political rival stemmed from the president’s “own impulses” and the views that were pushed by Trump‘s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who has acknowledged that he was enlisted to work with the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens.
Giuliani was mentioned 31 times in the whistleblower complaint and was described as a “central figure” in White House efforts to pressure Ukraine. Federal prosecutors are investigating Giuliani’s bank and business records in connection with two of his associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who worked with him in Ukraine.
‘All roads lead to Putin’
Officials told The Post that national security officials anticipated that there was a collective effort to “poison” Trump‘s views on Zelensky, but their departures from the White House or declining influence over Trump made it difficult to prevent the influence that foreign leaders had on shaping Trump‘s views.
They specifically cited the departures of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly as part of the struggle to contain the influence that Giuliani, Putin, and Orban had on reinforcing the perception of Ukraine as an adversary.
“Over time you just see a wearing down of the defenses,” a former White House official told the Post.
Last week, Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, acknowledged that Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine in part because he wanted the Ukrainian government to investigate the 2016 conspiracy theory. Mulvaney added that Trump told him that he believed Ukraine was a “corrupt place” and that he didn’t want to “send them a bunch of money.”