WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats accused the Trump administration on Wednesday of using “propaganda and disinformation” to attack the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and demanded that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explain how the material circulated at top levels of his department.
The Democrats, who are pursuing an impeachment probe of President Donald Trump, leveled the charge after State Department Inspector General Steve Linick delivered a package of documents to a hastily called hour-long briefing with staff for eight congressional committees.
“We are now in possession of this packet of propaganda and disinformation,” said Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin, the only lawmaker who joined committee staff members at the meeting. “The real question is where did it come from and how did it end up in our lap?”
Photographs of some of the documents, seen by Reuters, promoted unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. envoy to Ukraine, who was removed from her post in May, months before she was due to leave, after Trump allies accused her of disloyalty.
Multiple meeting participants, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the materials arrived at the State Department this spring and that Linick passed them on to the FBI.
The materials were inside an envelope marked “White House” that contained folders labeled “Trump Hotel,” said a statement issued by the Democratic chairmen of the House of Representatives intelligence, oversight and foreign relations committees.
The documents “reinforce concern that the president and his allies sought to use the machinery of the State Department to further the president’s personal political interests,” they said.
The meeting with Linick came as the Democratic-led U.S. House looks at whether Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate a Democratic political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter, who was a director of a Ukrainian energy firm.
Following a whistleblower complaint released last week, Democrats launched the impeachment inquiry focusing on a July 25 call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden, a Trump rival in the president’s race for re-election in 2020, and his son.
Pompeo said on Wednesday during a visit to Rome that he had listened in on Trump’s call with Zelenskiy.
Photographs of documents delivered by Linick to Congress included what appeared to be a cover sheet addressed to Pompeo on White House stationery.
One document, whose source was not disclosed, described a discredited theory promoted by Trump allies that Yovanovitch was installed in her post by billionaire George Soros, a Democratic donor frequently attacked by far-right activists.
“Until she is removed Soros has as much, or more, power over Yovanovitch as the President and the Secretary of State,” said the document.
Also in the packet was an email from John Solomon, a pro-Trump columnist for The Hill newspaper, to pro-Trump lawyers Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova, and Lev Parnas, a Soviet-born businessman who has been aiding Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
The email contained a report by Solomon that the U.S. Embassy in Kiev pressed Ukrainian authorities to end an investigation into an anti-corruption group supported by Soros during the 2016 U.S. election.
The report also quoted a former Ukrainian prosecutor as saying Yovanovitch had given him a list of people, including Soros allies, who should not be prosecuted. The State Department has vehemently denied such a list existed.
Giuliani, who has called Parnas one of his clients, has been a leading promoter of the unsubstantiated allegation that Biden, while vice president, pressured Ukraine to fire a prosecutor investigating the company in which his son was a director.
The prosecutor has said the probe pre-dated Hunter Biden’s role in the company.
Giuliani told CNN he was the source of some of the information that the inspector general turned over to Congress, the network reported. Giuliani said he sent the documents to Pompeo, who told Giuliani he would refer it for investigation, according to CNN.
Giuliani, the White House, State Department, Solomon, Toensing and DiGenova did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the materials provided by Linick appeared “to contain long-debunked theories and false statements about the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and one of President Trump’s political opponents.”
He demanded an explanation of Pompeo’s role.
Before the meeting, congressional sources had told Reuters the session with Linick would focus on potential political retaliation against career State Department diplomats by the department’s leadership.
Reporting By Jonathan Landay, Patricia Zengerle and Mark Hosenball; additional reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Bill Berkrot, David Gregorio, Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman
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