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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Top aides passively protect Trump by dodging his Ukraine computer claims

President Donald Trump on a Thanksgiving Day visit

President Donald Trump on a Thanksgiving Day visit with U.S. troops stationed at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. Credit: AFP via Getty Images/Olivier Douliery

President Donald Trump keeps peddling the notion that his Russia scandal was really a Ukraine scandal.

His motive is clear.  If you believe in a Ukraine-based plot, it may sound justified for Trump to bend U.S. foreign policy toward his election interests.

But then there are the facts.

In a live call-in to the Fox TV network on Nov. 22, Trump told a muddled story meant to sound like a tale of international intrigue.

“A lot of it had to do, they say, with Ukraine. It’s very interesting," he said. "They have the server, right, from the DNC, Democratic National Committee. The FBI went in, and they told them, 'Get out of here, we’re not giving it to you.' They gave the server to CrowdStrike, or whatever it’s called, which is a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian, and I still want to see that server.

"You know, the FBI has never gotten that server. That’s a big part of this whole thing. Why did they give it to a Ukrainian company?”

Fox's Steve Doocy asked: "Are you sure they did that? Are you sure they gave it to Ukraine?”

“Well, that’s what the word is,” the president said. 

Nearly all of it is wrong. 

For starters, U.S. intelligence agencies have long since established that Russians hacked the DNC in 2016. The California-based CrowdStrike company, called in to respond, isn't Ukrainian at all, and has done work for both major parties, according to published reports.

CrowdStrike gleaned what techs call an "image" of hard drives and memories of the affected devices. The company shared the information with the FBI, authorities said. No servers, or other machines, seem to be missing. Locating them was never a real issue.

Rather passively, Trump's top aides tiptoe around the story.

Attorney General William Barr has traveled to other countries in reviewing the origins of the Russia probe, so far with no clear results.

In addition, an eagerly-awaited report from his department's inspector general, Michael Horowitz, isn't expected to help Trump's related claims that his campaign was spied on.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has dodged the specifics from his boss. Pompeo said last week: "Any time there is information that indicates that any country has messed with American elections, we not only have a right, but a duty, to make sure we chase that down." 

In October, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney  said Trump delayed Ukraine security aid so the nation's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, would pursue the mystery server.

“Did [Trump] mention to me the corruption related to the DNC server?" Mulvaney said. "Absolutely. No question about it. But that’s it. That’s why we held up the money."

Mulvaney soon tried to walk that back without challenging the "server" story on which it rested.

No wonder the president's men want to avoid facing the House impeachment panel. Trying to prop up this stuff under oath could prove worse than embarrassing.

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