Newly released documents show a Trump campaign official told the FBI that during the 2016 presidential race, the campaign's chairman, Paul Manafort, pushed the idea that Ukraine, not Russia, was behind the hack of the Democratic National Committee's servers.
That unsubstantiated theory was advanced by President Donald Trump even after he took office, and it would later help trigger the impeachment inquiry now consuming the White House.
Notes from an FBI interview were released Saturday after a lawsuit by BuzzFeed News that led to public access to hundreds of pages of documents from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.
Information related to Ukraine has taken on renewed interest after calls for impeachment based on efforts by Trump and his administration to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden. Trump, when speaking with Ukraine's new president in July, asked about the server in the same phone call in which he pushed for an investigation into Biden.
Manafort speculated about Ukraine's responsibility as the campaign sought to capitalize on DNC email disclosures and as associates discussed how they could get hold of the material themselves, deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates told investigators, according to the notes.
Gates said Manafort's assertion that Ukraine might have done it echoed the position of Konstantin Kilimnik, a Manafort business associate who had also speculated that the hack could have been carried out by Russian operatives in Ukraine. U.S. authorities have assessed that Kilimnik, who was also charged in Mueller's investigation, has ties to Russian intelligence.
Gates also said the campaign believed that Michael Flynn, who later became Trump's first national security adviser, would be in the best position to obtain Hillary Clinton's missing emails because of his Russia connections. Flynn himself was adamant that Russia could not have been responsible for the hack.