Russian proxies 'helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network' last year, US intelligence report says

  • A US report said Russian proxies “helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network” in January 2020.
  • The documentary appears to have been featured on the Trump-aligned One America News Network.
  • It explored purported allegations of corruption involving the Bidens and Ukraine.
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A bombshell report released Tuesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence accused the Russian government of carrying out a covert influence campaign aimed at swaying the 2020 election in favor of then President Donald Trump.

As part of that effort, the report said, Russian proxies “made contact with established US media figures and helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network in late January 2020.” This line appears to be referencing a documentary by the Trump-allied One America News Network (OAN) that aired the weekend of January 25-26 last year, according to NBC News. 

Titled, “The Ukraine Hoax: Impeachment, Biden Cash, Mass Murder,” the film purported to “expose Biden-Obama corruption” related to Ukraine. It aired at the same time Trump was facing a Senate impeachment trial for withholding military aid from Ukraine while pressuring the country to launch politically motivated investigations targeting the Bidens.

The documentary was made by Michael Caputo, a former Trump advisor who served as the spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services before he took medical leave after spreading conspiracy theories about armed “left-wing hit squads” targeting Trump’s second inauguration. He made the comments in September, when Trump and then-Democratic candidate and now President Joe Biden were still vying for the White House.

“I know Ukraine very well, and I knew that the Bidens were up to something there,” Caputo said when promoting the documentary in an interview with the right-wing commentator Jack Posobiec in January 2020. “And I knew that the former president [of Ukraine], President Poroshenko, had been involved in interfering in the American elections. I thought that I could prove it, so I flew over there in August [of 2019].”

Allegations of corruption involving the Bidens and Ukraine, as well as claims of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, were at the center of Republicans’ messaging during the 2020 race.

OAN has often been compared to a state-run media outlet and gained traction among Trump’s base for its presentation of his views without scrutiny or fact-checking. Its ascension in the conservative media sphere came at a time when Trump skewered the news divisions of right-wing networks like Fox News for calling the November election for Biden instead of catering to his bogus claims of voter and election fraud. In the months since the election, OAN has come under fire and faced legal threats from the election tech company Dominion Voting Systems for peddling the former president’s conspiracy theories about the election.

Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and several of their congressional allies repeatedly accused the Biden of inappropriately leveraging his role as vice president to help his son, Hunter, when the younger Biden served on the board of the Ukrainian natural-gas company Burisma Holdings.

They also alleged that Ukraine, not Russia, was responsible for meddling in the 2016 election, and that it did so to help then Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

But as the ODNI’s report found — and as has been repeatedly confirmed by US officials, diplomats, and anticorruption activists — those claims stemmed mainly from a Russian disinformation campaign directed by Vladimir Putin that aimed to “damage US ties to Ukraine, denigrate President Biden and his candidacy, and benefit former President Trump’s prospects for reelection.”

A “network” of pro-Russian Ukrainians like the lawmaker Andriy Derkach and the influence agent Konstantin Kilimnik “sought to use prominent US persons and media conduits to launder their narratives to US officials and audiences,” the report said. “These Russian proxies met with and provided materials to Trump administration-linked US persons to advocate for formal investigations; hired a US firm to petition US officials; and attempted to make contact with several senior US officials.”

The narrative about Biden and Ukraine was part of a Russian intelligence effort to “push influence narratives — including misleading or unsubstantiated allegations against President Biden — to US media organizations, US officials, and prominent US individuals, including some close to former President Trump and his administration.”

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