The State Department Inspector General briefed congressional staff and a member of Congress Wednesday on a mysterious packet of Ukraine-related “disinformation,” according to a member of Congress, that had landed on the watchdog’s desk.
House Rep Jamie Raskin (D-MD) told reporters that Inspector General Steve Linick did not discuss alleged retaliation against State Department employees for cooperating with Congress, as some outlets had reported the meeting was expected to be about.
Rather Linick provided for the attendees the unclassified packet, which the official said was provided to him by the State Department’s legal counsel after if started circulating around the Department in May, according to Raskin.
The packet appeared to have White House calligraphy and was addressed to Secretary Pompeo.
What role Pompeo played in distributing the information contained in the packet is unclear.
Within it were folders with a Trump hotel logo on it, according to the copies Raskin showed the reporters.
Raskin said that the “propaganda” packet included memos, newspaper clippings, and emails that tracked with many of the conspiracy theories now being pursued by Rudy Giuliani President Trump’s personal attorney, in his bid to smear one of Trump’s top political rivals, Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. The conspiracy theories also attacked the findings by special counsel Robert Mueller that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, Raskin said.
Raskin clarified that he had no evidence that Giuliani was behind the packet, but said that the former New York mayor’s name is mentioned repeatedly in the materials.
He said that the materials targeted the Bidens and Maria Yovanovitch, who until recently served as the Ambassador to Ukraine and was recalled in May amid a right-wing smear campaign that accused her of being disloyal to Trump.
“If you read the packet of information, it’s a series of somewhat hallucinatory propagandistic suggestions that are very consistent with the things Rudolph Giuliani has been saying,” Raskin said.
He said he expected to give the materials a closer look, but also warned that they could be a “distraction” as the House moves forward with an impeachment inquiry against Trump examining the pressure he put on Ukraine to investigate Biden ahead of the 2020 election.
“There is nothing in here I think that is directly relevant to the President’s impeachable conduct,” Raskin said. “But it does relate to efforts to sabotage Ambassador Yovanovitch and basically smear a number of employees who were perhaps getting in the way of the President.”
The briefing came as the House is set to begin deposing current and former State Department officials about allegations that President Trump and his allies pressured Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political rival.
Two officials —Yovanovitch and the former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, who resigned Friday — have agreed to sit for depositions, House Intel Chairman Adam Schiff said (D-CA) Wednesday, and he said discussions are underway with other State officials the committee has sought to speak to.
Their cooperation comes as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent the House a scathing letter accusing Democrats of bullying State Department employees by requesting their testimony.
Update: This story has been updated to reflect that the State Department Inspector General’s briefing was about a packet of Ukraine-related material circulated at State, not alleged retaliation against State employees for cooperating with Congress as some outlets had reported in the lead-up to the briefing.