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

putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • An intel 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.

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. OAN, which has often been compared to a state-run media outlet because of its pro-Trump agenda, was a key player in amplifying these claims.

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

To that end, 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.”

In the last year, OAN and fellow Trump-allied network Newsmax have gained traction with the former president’s base for presenting his views without scrutiny or fact-checking. But that same loyalty to Trump also landed both outlets in legal hot water when the election tech company Dominion Voting Systems threatened to sue them for defamation.

In January, Insider’s Jacob Shamsian reported, OAN quietly scrubbed its site of Domion-related articles despite publicly doubling down on conspiracy theories about the company. It also removed stories about Smartmatic, a rival election tech company that was also a subject of the conspiracy theories and threatened legal action.

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OANN is doubling down on election conspiracy theories after Dominion threatened the network with a defamation lawsuit

OANN
Dominion Voting Systems has threatened to sue OAN, Newsmax, and Fox News for defamation.

  • Dominion Voting Systems sent letters to the One America News Network threatening to sue for defamation, accusing the network of spreading unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about the election-technology company.
  • OAN responded with letters of its own, asking Dominion to preserve certain documents concerning the election in order to help the network make its case if it ends up in court.
  • The requests reiterated some of the figures involved in the election conspiracy theories, including the former president of Venezuela Hugo Chávez and the billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros.
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In response to threats of a defamation lawsuit, the One America News Network is leaning further into some election conspiracy theories that the network has featured on its shows.

Dominion Voting Systems previously sent OAN letters threatening to sue, accusing the network of spreading the unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that the election-technology company manipulated votes in favor of President-elect Joe Biden in the November general election.

Dominion also asked the network to save any documents or correspondence related to Dominion, Insider’s Jacob Shamsian previously reported.

In letters reviewed by Insider, OAN responded by requesting Dominion keep records of certain documents so the network can “preserve its own claims and defenses in the event of litigation.”

The conservative news network sent similar letters to Smartmatic, another election-technology company.

Supporters of President Donald Trump have alleged, without substantial evidence, that Dominion’s voting machines and Smartmatic’s voting software helped flipped votes from Trump to Biden. There are also groundless claims that Dominion has secret ties to Smartmatic.

The material OAN requested be preserved concerns that claim, as well as other baseless conspiracy theories that prompted Dominion’s lawsuit threats in the first place.

In the letters dated December 23, the list included voting software and hardware, communications about the 2020 election, digital and manual ballots, and the voting machines themselves.

In letters sent a day later, OAN requested the companies’ save any correspondence between Smartmatic CEO Antonio Mugica and a number of individuals, including former president of Venezuela Hugo Chávez and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

The president’s allies have also claimed without evidence that Smartmatic was working with the socialist Venezuelan government and Chávez, who died in 2013, to disrupt the US presidential election.

The list of material to preserve includes documents concerning George Soros, the billionaire investor and philanthropist who is a frequent target of right-wing conspiracy theorists.

In addition to OAN, Dominion has sent letters to Fox News and Newsmax with threats to sue for defamation, as well as conservative media figures like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, among others.

The company has also sent letters to some of Trump’s allies, including attorneys Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani.

Mugica, the Smartmatic CEO, has also said the company is considering pursuing lawsuits against Fox News, Newsmax, and OAN, for spreading the groundless claims, saying they have hurt his business.

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