The Editorial Board, USA TODAY
Published 6: 55 p.m. ET Dec. 17, 2019 | Updated 7: 06 p.m. ET Dec. 17, 2019
National Security: With the impeachment vote looming in the House on Wednesday, farce turns to tragedy when Republicans of stature promote the Ukraine myth: Our view
Even for a president with a reputation for trafficking in falsehoods, Donald Trump’s spin that Ukraine, rather than Russia, engineered interference in the 2016 presidential election is a fantasy too far.
Even worse, the farce turns to tragedy when Republicans of stature pick up the thread and, defending the president against impeachment, argue some kind of equivalency between Russia’s information warfare campaign and a few Ukrainian politicians opining about candidate Trump.
“There’s no difference,” Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said recently, “in the way Russia put their feet, early on, on the scale … and how the Ukrainian officials did it.”
National Security: Senate investigators blamed Russia
Really? Burr’s own committee, in a bipartisan finding in October, ripped Russia for its extensive efforts to undermine Hillary Clinton, warning that the United States risks similar intrusions by Moscow next year.
Now Burr’s whataboutism regarding Ukraine is being echoed by other GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who claimed on “Meet the Press” this month that Ukraine “blatantly interfered in the election.”
REP. ANDY BIGGS: Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and Ukraine tried to
Maybe they’re looking for ways to exonerate Trump, who’s caught pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into opening an investigation into supposed Ukraine interference in 2016 — an action central to the impeachment vote looming in the House on Wednesday. But that doesn’t justify promoting a myth.
Let’s set the record straight:
►As far back as 2017, Trump began embracing Ukraine-collusion theories advanced by Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity and more fringe elements of right-wing social media. One in particular, which Trump raised in his July phone conversation with Zelensky and again recently on Fox News, asserted that a Democratic National Committee server, laden with missing Clinton emails, was somehow spirited out of America and into Ukraine.
This tale has zero basis in reality. Even Trump’s first Homeland Security adviser, Tom Bossert, said he worked hard to disabuse the president of the idea, to no avail.
►The more recent Ukraine theory promoted by Burr and others — call it collusion-lite — is that anti-Trump comments by Ukrainian officials in 2016 on the internet, or by the Ukrainian ambassador in an op-ed column, somehow amounted to election interference.
But as Fiona Hill, former adviser with Trump’s National Security Council, testified during impeachment hearings: “We found disparaging remarks made by pretty much every world leader and official at different points” about then-candidate Trump.
National Security: Playing into Putin’s hands
But the evidence that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin ordered an assault on the American election system in 2016, and threatens something similar in 2020, is overwhelming. Last year, grand juries returned indictments against two dozen Russian intelligence officers and civilians and three companies for trying to hack into U.S. election websites or wage a disinformation campaign on Trump’s behalf in 2016. The Russians “used social media accounts and interest groups to sow discord in the U.S. political system,” the Mueller report concluded.
Suggesting that Ukraine, a fledgling democracy endangered by Russian aggression, is as much or more of a villain in the 2016 interference plays right into the hands of Russian security services peddling the same fiction to take the heat off Moscow.
“I’m extremely concerned that this is a rabbit hole that we’re all going to go down in between now and the 2020 election,” Hill told members of Congress in closed-door testimony.
It might be impossible to stop Trump, with his penchant for promoting false conspiracy theories, from jumping down that rabbit hole. But congressional Republicans ought to know better than to follow him.
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