Sen. John Kennedy said Sunday that despite the U.S. intelligence community’s unwavering conclusion that Russia was behind the 2016 theft of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign, he believes it’s possible Ukraine was to blame.
During an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace asked Kennedy if he believed Russia or Ukraine was behind the computer hack.
“I don’t know, nor do you,” Kennedy replied.
Wallace said, “the entire intelligence community says it was Russia.”
“Right, but it could also be Ukraine,” Kennedy said. “I’m not saying that I know one way or the other.”
The Louisiana Republican’s remarks came just days after former National Security Council official Fiona Hill warned lawmakers the theory that Ukraine, and not Russia, was the culprit behind the 2016 election meddling was a “fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services.”
“I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests,” Hill said in the opening statement of her testimony before the House Intelligence Committee hearing in the impeachment inquiry into allegations that President Donald Trump used military aid to pressure Ukraine into opening investigations for his own political gain.
Hill said the conclusion that Russia was the culprit “is beyond dispute” and warned that “fictions” like the Ukraine theory “are harmful even if they are deployed for purely domestic political purposes.”
“Ms. Hill is entitled to her opinion,” Kennedy said Sunday. He argued that he did not know the extent of Ukrainian election interference because “no rebuttal evidence was allowed to be offered” and the Democratically-controlled committee blocked a witness who was a “DNC operative who lobbied the Ukrainian embassy to get involved.”
“The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence if you’re not allowed to call your own witnesses,” he said.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, slammed Kennedy’s comment.
“It was Russia. And as a country, we have to make sure that we absolutely acknowledge it was Russia, condemn Russia for it. And it actually plays into Russia’s hands if they have this equivalence with Ukraine, where we’re saying, “Well, maybe we don’t know which one it was,” he said.
During a “Fox & Friends” interview on Friday, Trump reiterated his belief in an unfounded conspiracy theory that Ukraine physically possessed the DNC server that had been hacked.
“It’s very interesting. It’s very interesting. They have this server right, from the DNC Democratic National Committee,” Trump said.
“Who has the server,” asked co-host Brian Kilmeade.
“The FBI went in and they told him, ‘Get out of here. You’re not getting it. We’re not giving it to you,'” though Trump did not clarify who “he” was in this context, nor where “the FBI went in,” nor who told the FBI to “get out.”
“They gave the server to CrowdStrike or whatever it’s called, which is a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian. And I still want to see that server. You know, the FBI has never gotten that server. That’s a big part of this whole thing. Why did they give it to a Ukrainian company?” Trump said.
“Are you sure they gave it to Ukraine?” Kilmeade asked.
“Well, that’s what the word is,” Trump said, though he did not say from whom he had heard that.
CrowdStrike is a publicly-traded cybersecurity company based in California that was co-founded in 2011 by American George Kurtz and Russian-born American Dmitri Alperovitch. Neither of them is Ukrainian.
The company, which has also done work for the Republican National Committee, was hired by the DNC to determine who was behind the theft of the emails. CrowdStrike determined io was Russian intelligence operatives, and that conclusion was later confirmed by the FBI and other intelligence agencies.
Tom Bossert, Trump’s former homeland security adviser, has said the notion that Ukraine was behind the DNC hack “has no validity.”
“It’s not only a conspiracy theory, it is completely debunked,” Bossert said in September on ABC News “This Week.” He said he was “deeply frustrated” by people who repeat “that debunked theory to the president. It sticks in his mind when he hears it over and over again.”
Trump also referenced CrowdStrike and the DNC server in a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.
Critics have said Trump sees the Ukraine theory as a way to refute former special counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusion that “the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome” through “sweeping and systematic” interference in the election.
When asked Sunday why Trump does not accept the conclusion of U.S. intelligence experts and the Department of Justice, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Trump “wants to get to the bottom of what happened in 2016” and “to secure our elections in the future.”
She then warned the news media not to “interfere in the 2020 election the way they tried in the 2016 election” by downplaying Trump’s chances of defeating Hillary Clinton.
In her testimony last week, Hill also expressed concerns about the 2020 election, warning that “Russia’s security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference.”
And she said, “The impact of the successful 2016 Russian campaign remains evident today. Our nation is being torn apart. Truth is questioned.”
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