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Alternative Fact of the Week: Ukraine or Russia?

Former White House national security aide Fiona Hill testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former White House national security aide Fiona Hill testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)(Andrew Harnik/AP)

So far, the public portion of the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings have produced quite a number of memorable moments of pure, unadulterated, Grade A baloney. Much of it coming from the GOP camp whether it was the effort to discredit Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Iraq War veteran with a Purple Heart as some kind of secret Ukraine loyalist or President Donald Trump’s attack on Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, as someone who “turned” Somalia (and other places) “bad,” as if that country were doing great before she showed up there in the 1980s as a then-junior foreign service officer. And here we always thought it was the violent internal civil war between clan-based opposition groups that caused that country to descend into chaos. Darn those career federal employees.

The questioning of Trump administration officials certainly produced some reality-bending moments including the equivocating of hotelier-turned-bag man Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union who admitted he absolutely called on Ukraine to announce investigations that would benefit President Trump at the president’s behest — except maybe not. And then there was Wednesday’s surprise witness: the bluntly-worded, Sharpie-written notes that seemed to jump out from their note pad in Mr. Trump’s hands in the South Lawn: “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo," they seemed to taunt in an unlikely refrain now set to music (thanks, Twitter).

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U.S. President Donald Trump holds handwritten notes as he speaks to the media about the impeachment hearings on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington before his departure to Austin, Texas on November 20, 2019.
U.S. President Donald Trump holds handwritten notes as he speaks to the media about the impeachment hearings on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington before his departure to Austin, Texas on November 20, 2019.(Gripas Yuri/Abaca Press/TNS)

But easily lost in the tumult, and thankfully brought back to the forefront Thursday during testimony from Fiona Hill, the president’s top Russia adviser, is the alternative fact that connects so much of the whole impeachment elements together: The fiction that it was Ukraine and not Russia that interfered with the 2016 presidential election. After all, all that Democratic “human scum” (thanks again, Twitter) on the Intelligence Committee wouldn’t be looking to write articles of impeachment against the 45th president if not for his obsessive efforts to get his pal Vladimir Putin off the hook. Remember the old days when Mr. Trump resented the suggestion that any foreign entity interfered with the election? Turns out, he would have been perfectly happy with blaming it all on Ukraine and dispatched his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to rewrite U.S. foreign policy to make that happen and put a hold on about $400 million in vital military aid in the process.

Let’s set the record straight for the thousandth time: It was Russia. It was Russia. It was Russia. As Ms. Hill testified, anything else is a “fictional narrative" propagated by the Russians. That’s not coming from Democrats, that’s what this country’s top intelligence experts say and have said for years. President Trump surely knows this. The whole Ukraine-can-announce-an-investigation effort was to get that country to get a label that could be used to flog former Vice President Joe Biden in 2020, not because anyone in the White House wanted a real inquiry. That’s a point made by Mr. Sondland, by the way. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky “had to announce the investigations, he didn’t have to actually do it as I understand it,” the EU ambassador told Committee Chairman Adam Schiff mid-week. Perhaps the biggest lie of all is that the president was sincerely worried about corruption in Ukraine. Even hardcore Republicans can’t sell that one.

Finally, if anyone thinks this is all piling on Russia’s Mr. Putin unfairly, you really haven’t been listening to the testimony. As pointed out on the first day, Russia’s record in Europe in recent years is bad and getting worse. They are breaking treaties “that actually kept the peace in Europe for nearly 70 years,” according to Ukraine Ambassador William Taylor Jr. That includes the annexation of Crimea and this year’s armed aggression in the Donbass region of Ukraine. The INF Treaty, the Budapest Memorandum (which guaranteed Eastern European security), the Ukraine-Russia Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership are among the documents turned to litter. Even if the impeachment inquiry results in the GOP-controlled Senate turning its back on any wrongdoing, let’s hope that Russia’s aggressive behavior toward the U.S. and its European allies doesn’t get similarly swept under the rug.

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