Former White House officials say President Donald Trump said he believes an unfounded conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 election instead of Russia because Vladimir Putin “told me” so, according to a new Washington Post report.
Trump’s belief that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 election is one of the centerpieces of his impeachment this week. The president was impeached by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, after an investigation found he pressured Ukraine into launching an internal investigation into the debunked theory while withholding military aid to the country, who is in conflict with Russia.
According to the Post, a number of former White House officials believe Trump is basing his belief off of what Putin has told him personally, as is evident in his staunch defense that Russia isn’t responsible for a 2016 hack into the Democratic National Committee.
“One former senior White House official said Trump even stated so explicitly at one point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit because ‘Putin told me,’ ” the Post reports.
The White House did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election interference found Russian hackers to blame for the 2016 DNC email leaks, which led to nearly 20,000 emails being leaked.
Putin, 67, defended Trump, 73, on Thursday when he was asked about the U.S. commander-in-chief becoming just the third president in American history to be impeached.
“It’s simply a continuation of internal political struggle,” Putin told reporters, according to the Associated Press. “The party that lost the (2016) election, the Democratic Party, is trying to achieve results by other means.”
The Russian president said Trump was impeached because of “far-fetched” reasons.
Both Putin and the Russian government have been the main focus throughout Trump’s presidency, as the FBI led an extended probe into the 2016 election and whether Trump’s victory was aided by Russian influence on American voters.
Putin and Trump have both denied allegations of collusion.
Trump being removed from office over his impeachment charges hinges on a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate early next year.
“They will be unlikely to remove a representative of their own party from office on what seems to me absolutely far-fetched reasons,” Putin said on Thursday.
“Russia is continuing their sweeping & unprecedented attack on U.S. elections, & @realdonaldtrump wants to allow them back into the G7,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted in August, one month before launching the impeachment investigation. “Why does President Trump choose to reward Putin instead of defending the integrity of American elections?”