This particular anti-Romney narrative had been plucked from a story floating around far-right media for months. On Sept. 29, 2019 — just as the impeachment saga began and shortly after the whistleblower report became public — the American Thinker, a lesser-known conservative opinion site, wrote a story highlighting the fact that Joseph Cofer Black, a former CIA agent and a national security adviser for Romney’s 2012 campaign, just so happened to be a board member of the Ukrainian energy company under scrutiny by far-right factions of the GOP.
Black’s tenure happened to begin six months after Hunter Biden left the board, a fact that writer Thomas Lifson, who called Black a “career CIA spook,” highlighted as “an odd coincidence!” Other so-called coincidences include Black’s connection to John Brennan, who replaced him as the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, and his stint at Blackwater. “When dealing with spooks, politicians, and big-time power politics, sometimes coincidences are not accidental,” Lifson concluded. “But of course nobody wants to be a conspiracy theorist.”
In a statement, a Romney spokesperson pointed out that Black’s connection to Romney was tenuous at best. “There were hundreds of informal policy advisers to the Romney campaign. If you were a Republican policy expert at that time, chances are you were part of that group.”
Ryan Williams, a former Romney spokesman currently with the firm Targeted Victory, pointed out that several Trump allies — including Jay Sekulow, the lawyer Trump chose to represent him during his impeachment trial — were also Romney advisers in 2012.
“It seems that some people are trying to play the political equivalent of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” to attack Romney, he said. “Using this logic, Romney must also be a secret agent for the Trump Administration since both the president’s lawyer and national security adviser served as Romney campaign advisers.”
Indeed, Sekulow, was a close Romney ally and advised his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, while Robert C. O’Brien, Trump’s current national security adviser, co-chaired the 2012 campaign’s international organizations work group.
Regardless, that line of attack lingered in a series of aggregated articles on conservative blogs like The Federalist, Breitbart and Big League Politics (with the apt headline “HMM”) published that month.
Just hours after Romney voted last Wednesday to remove Trump from office on one article of impeachment, however, the allegation roared back to life — first on Twitter, highlighted by the likes of former Gov. Mike Huckabee, commentators Sean Davis and John Cardillo, and The Daily Wire, all retweeting or reaggregating the Federalist and Breitbart articles.
“Well this may explain a lot! Maybe there ought to be an investigation. Will Mitt’s conscience force him to ask for it?”asked Huckabee.
The focus on Black persisted into Thursday and Friday, with RedState and PJ Media running articles highlighting the connection, Charlie Kirk and Mark Levin tweeting their seeming suspicions, and Hannity guest host Dan Bongino expressing outrage on his show that a Romney “confidant” was connected to Burisma.