"It's strange to see my journalism twisted, perverted, and turned into lies and poisonous propaganda by Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and their enablers," explains journalist James Risen. "But that's what has happened to a news story I wrote four years ago."
A new ad for President Donald Trump's 2020 reelection campaign is being widely denounced for including a totally "fabricrated" lie about Democratic rival Joe Biden and comes just days after House Democrats launched an official impeachment inquiry into the president over his exchange with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine earlier this year and allegations the White House has engaged in a "massive cover-up" to avoid the full truth from emerging.
Posted online late Friday night and then pinned to the top of his Twitter account, Trump included the new campaign ad—which flagrantly mischaracterizes a story about former vice president Biden, his son Hunter, and Ukraine from 2015—while declaring, "I am draining the swamp."
I AM DRAINING THE SWAMP! https://t.co/U7WxKrO6Kx— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1569613278.0
According to Tim Murtaugh, director of communications for Trump's 2020 campaign, the video is part of a new $10 million ad buy, including $2 million kicked in by the Republican National Committee.
As law requires, Trump's voice played over the final moment of the ad, issued by his 2020 reelection campaign, with the message: "I'm Donald Trump and I approved this message."
As is true of many falsehoods put forth by Trump, however, the false and misleading claims against Biden and his son are based on unfounded conspiracy theories circulating within the right-wing echo chamber. And the president's insistence on spreading them—given all the available documentation and reporting—appears like willful deceit on the part of his campaign.
For Trump followers and Republican supporters, however, it very much appeared successful. Just a quick perusal of right-wing responses to the video included these reactions and countless more like them: "The mainstream media establishment cannot be trusted to report the facts."; "Do not EVER take down this pinned tweet please. God bless President Trump."; and "Please retweet. Many Americans still don't know how corrupt the democrats are."
Meanwhile, those who understand the actual facts around the case, experienced the campaign ad in a wholly different way.
"Not positive," tweeted journalist Judd Legum in response, "but I think this is the world's first political ad that brags about committing an impeachable offense."
But the major issue with the ad? It's entire premise is a big—and very easily discredited—lie. And while not surprising, the new ad, especially as it comes on the heels of House Democrats' announcement of a formal impeachment inquiry into the president earlier this week, offers a glimpse of how Trump will run his 2020 campaign – whether its against Biden or any other candidate.
The allegation in this ad is made up. Fabricated. The prosecutor Biden wanted fired WAS NOT investigating Burisma… https://t.co/IbcRPBvJJ2— Chris Murphy (@Chris Murphy) 1569618940.0
Among those journalists who have rebuffed the right-wing narrative about the Biden-Ukraine story is investigative reporter James Risen, previously of the New York Times and now with The Intercept, who—back in 2015—was among the first to explore the story involving Biden when he was Vice President, the work of his son Hunter Biden, and a Ukraine gas company.
"It's strange to see my journalism twisted, perverted, and turned into lies and poisonous propaganda by Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and their enablers," wrote Risen in a column on Thursday of this week. "But that's what has happened to a news story I wrote four years ago."
That 2015 story—titled "Joe Biden, His Son and the Case Against a Ukrainian Oligarch"—is still worth reading, but Risen wrote Thursday that even while contemporary observers of the alleged "Ukraine scandal" involving the Bidens "seem to think this suddenly hot story came out of nowhere this year," that is simply not accurate. According to Risen:
The truth behind that story has been lost in a swamp of right-wing opposition research, White House lies, and bizarre follow-up stories. Now it appears that the Biden-Ukraine story will play a role in a new impeachment inquiry against Trump, amid evidence that he sought to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by withholding U.S. aid unless Zelensky agreed to investigate the Bidens.
While it is true that then Vice President Joe Biden travelled to Ukraine in 2015 in part to push the government to tackle corruption probes in the country with more scrutiny and force—including allegations against Mykola Zlochevsky, the owner of Burisma Holdings, on which Hunter Biden had a lucrative board seat—the reality is that the elder Biden's efforts were directed at the prosecutor who officials at the British Serious Fraud Office in the U.K. charged "had stymied" a corruption probe into Burisma.
Biden's fellow Democrat Beto O'Rourke, also seeking the party's presidential nomination, said Trump's false attack ad must be identified and condemned by its proper name
Reporter Sean Collins, in a Vox explainer published Friday detailing Trump's lies and false claims about the Ukraine-Biden story, reported how the "evidence suggests Biden actually may have placed his son in legal danger by advocating for the prosecutor's removal because he was widely accused of stymying anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine — replacing him could have led to further investigations into a company Hunter Biden had ties to."
As Risen puts it, "when Joe Biden went to Ukraine, he was not trying to protect his son — quite the reverse." And continued:
The then-vice president issued his demands for greater anti-corruption measures by the Ukrainian government despite the possibility that those demands would actually increase – not lessen — the chances that Hunter Biden and Burisma would face legal trouble in Ukraine.
When it first was published, my 2015 story seemed to have little impact, other than to irritate Joe Biden and his staff. It ran inside the print edition of the Times, not on the front page.
But somebody obviously read my piece, as well as others like it, because questions about the Bidens in Ukraine suddenly came roaring back this year. Giuliani, Trump, and their lackeys began spreading the false accusation that Biden had traveled to Ukraine to blackmail the government and force officials to fire the country’s chief prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, to derail an investigation into Burisma.
The facts are quite clear, concluded Risen in his column this week. "Biden did threaten to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees unless Shokin was ousted," he explained. "But that was because Shokin had blocked serious anti-corruption investigations, not because he was investigating Burisma."
Biden's fellow Democrat Beto O'Rourke, also seeking the party's presidential nomination, said Trump's false attack ad must be identified and condemned by its proper name.
"Trump's ad about Joe Biden is a disgrace," tweeted O'Rourke. "Every one of us needs to call this exactly what it is: propaganda. Doing anything less is playing right into his hands."