The ‘Pro-Russia’ GOP Platform Conspiracy That Won’t Die

Democrats continue pushing bogus notion Trump ordered removal of tough language on Ukraine

Short on evidence to prove that any fire accompanies the tenuous “smoke” suggesting a 2016 election conspiracy between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian agents, liberal pundits and Democratic politicians continually return to a different conspiracy theory involving the Republican platform.

The theory goes like this: Trump campaign operatives intervened at the Republican National Convention in July to soften the party’s hard-line stance against the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) recently repeated the allegation on CNN.

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“One of the things that’s striking, in this circumstantial evidence around this case, is a significant change in position by the Republican Party, their platform, and how they described our obligations as a nation to support Ukraine and Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and to push back on Russian aggression, particularly in eastern Ukraine, and to continue to recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine,” he said. “My understanding is that position changed in the Republican Party platform and that leaders in the Trump campaign had a role in that.”

It is pretty thin gruel on which to build a conspiracy theory. First of all, the platform is not exactly pro-Russia. The language arguably is tougher than the platform the Democrats adopted one week later. It supports the sanctions that the United States imposed after the Russian invasion and expresses a willingness to increase sanctions “if warranted.”

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The platform states: “We also support providing appropriate assistance to the armed forces of Ukraine and greater coordination with  NATO defense planning.”

It is the term “appropriate assistance” that has set Russia conspiracy theorists aflutter since it replaced the phrase “lethal assistance” that had been in an earlier draft. That actually moved the party closer to the official position of former President Barack Obama’s administration, creating the odd spectacle of liberals criticizing Republicans for endorsing the policy of a Democratic president.

Beyond that, the delegates who actually drafted the platform contend that the liberal narrative simply is wrong. Steve Yates, a former Idaho Republican Party chairman who served on the subcommittee that worked on the Russia-Ukraine section, expressed frustration at repeatedly having to explain it to reporters.

“The problem they have every time they try to write about it is, there is no story,” he told LifeZette. “As has always been the case, representatives from the nominee were not at the table … The Trump campaign had a much lighter hand than any of the campaigns I’ve ever seen.”

Yates said the platform text was a hybrid of previous drafts, themes of the Trump campaign and suggestions from the delegates. He said the changes occurred organically, not as a result of orders from on high.

“It definitely was not top-down,” he said.

Yates said the change in language on Russian and Ukraine arose out of a desire to condense a rather long passage. He recalled a debate between more hawkish delegates on one side and devotees of libertarian-leaning former presidential candidate Ron Paul, who worried that arming Ukraine could risk war. In the end, he said, the group came up with a compromise that could win support from a supermajority.

“That’s pure, unadulterated bullsh**. It’s a bunch of demagogues running around trying to keep American from being great again. I hate to see it.”

“It was an open and transparent discussion,” agreed Ron Rabin, a retired Army colonel and North Carolina state senator who served as co-chairman of the committee. “Whatever happened was the consensus of the group.”

Rabin rejected the notion that the Trump campaign pressured the committee to alter the platform language.

“That’s pure, unadulterated bullsh**,” he said. “It’s a bunch of demagogues running around trying to keep American from being great again. I hate to see it.”

Democrats and progressive pundits often cite J.D. Gordon as Exhibit A. Formerly a Pentagon spokesman, Gordon served as a national security adviser to Trump and represented the campaign as the delegates drafted the platform.

Gordon referred LifeZette to comments he made to a Daily Caller reporter in March. In that story, Gordon dismissed the narrative as “fake news” and denied that the campaign leaned on the delegates. He said he supported the change to align the platform with Trump’s non-interventionist views but was not carrying out orders from Trump or his campaign.

“Nobody from the Trump campaign changed the platform,” he told The Daily Caller.

He added: “I hadn’t spoken to Mr. Trump about the issue in months, yet clearly knew his position from my campaign role on the national security advisory committee.”

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The conspiracy has its genesis in complaints from a Texas delegate who had been pledged to Ted Cruz, Diana Denman, who drafted the original proposal. She had complained that the Trump campaign watered down the language. She could not be reached for comment but told Washington Examiner columnist Byron York in March that she supports Trump.

“The platform ended up tougher than it started, compared from the beginning to the end,” she said.

Rabin, the North Carolina state senator, attributed lingering questions to sour grapes over the election.

“If Democrats are unhappy with the result, they should work harder next time and quit trying to keep America from progressing,” he said.

Yates, the Idaho delegate, said obsession over the platform makes little sense since it has little to no relevance to actual policy. He referred to his tenure as deputy national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.

“I never once started a meeting with, ‘What’s in the platform?'” he said.

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