WASHINGTON – Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned Sen. John Kennedy on Monday for “parroting Russian propaganda” after the Louisiana Republican said he believed “both Russia and Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.”
“Sen. Kennedy, why are you parroting Russian propaganda that U.S. intelligence officials tell us are designed to divide our country?” Clinton asked in a tweet. “Did you miss the briefing that day?”
The briefing Clinton asked about was apparently a reference to a New York Times report, based on unnamed sources, which said U.S. intelligence officials had briefed senators that Russia had engaged in a “yearslong campaign to essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow’s own hacking of the 2016 election.”
Clinton’s claim that Kennedy was repeating Russian disinformation came after former National Security Council official Fiona Hill warned lawmakers at an open hearing in the impeachment inquiry last month that the idea that Ukraine, and not Russia, was behind 2016 election interference was a “fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”
During an appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Kennedy told host Chuck Todd that he had received no briefing about Russian propaganda, and that while Hill is “entitled to her opinion,” Ukrainian meddling in the election had been “well documented” in reports from various news sources.
Kennedy said, “the prime minister of Ukraine, the interior minister, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, the head of the Ukrainian Anti-Corruption League, all meddled in the election on social media and otherwise.” And he claimed that former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko “actively worked for Secretary Clinton.”
Todd asked Kennedy if the Senator was concerned that he had been “duped.”
“You have done exactly what the Russian operation is trying to get American politicians to do,” said a disbelieving Todd.
“No,” Kennedy said. “Just read the articles.”
Their exchange occurred after Todd asked Kennedy about the uproar he caused last month in an interview with “Fox News Sunday” in which he said did not know if Ukraine or Russia had been behind the cybertheft of emails from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, despite the U.S. intelligence community’s unanimous conclusion that Russia was behind the attack.
The next day, Kennedy admitted on CNN that he “was wrong” about that, explaining he had misunderstood the question. He clarified that there was “overwhelming” evidence Russia was behind the DNC hack. But he said that when it came to 2016 interference in general, “Ukraine did try to interfere, along with Russia and probably others.”
Kennedy is far from the lone Republican on Capitol Hill to take up the argument that both Ukraine and Russia could have meddled in 2016 as they try to defend Trump in the impeachment inquiry into allegations that he pressured Ukraine into opening two investigations that stood to benefit him politically: one into the ties between former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, and a Ukrainian energy company, the other into alleged Ukrainian election interference in 2016.
Trump’s defenders have said his call for the two investigations were rooted in legitimate concerns.
After Hill’s testimony, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said she was “correct that Russia tried to interfere” in 2016, but added that “also, Ukrainians tried to interfere.”
“I’m concerned about both,” he said.
Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, disputed Hill’s assertion that Republicans were denying Russian meddling and said “it is entirely possible for two separate nations to engage in election meddling at the same time.”
Similarly, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that “there are plenty of ways to interfere in an election” and that Trump wanted “to get to the bottom of what happened in 2016” to avoid future election meddling.
The claims that Ukraine also intervened in 2016 are largely based on statements from Ukrainian officials who criticized Trump in the 2016 campaign for his apparently positive opinion of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a comment that he might recognize Russian’s annexation of Crimea.
Kennedy and others have also pointed to a Ukrainian court’s ruling that anti-corruption prosecutors acted illegally when they supplied evidence that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had not disclosed large payments he had received from a Ukrainian political party.
The court ruled that the release of the Manafort information “resulted in meddling in the electoral process of the United States in 2016 and damaged the national interests of Ukraine,” according to The New York Times.
And those who say Ukraine also meddled point to a January 2017 Politico article, “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump backfired,” which describes a DNC operative, Alexandra Chalupa, who reached out to Ukrainian officials about incriminating information on Manafort.
The Politico reporters, however, found no “top-down effort by Ukraine” to interfere in the election, unlike Russia’s campaign, which was “personally directed” by Putin and “involved the country’s military and foreign intelligence services.”
When Trump has directly addressed his concerns about 2016, he has focused more on a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine, and not Russia, hacked the DNC.
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