John Kennedy is at it again.
The “it” here is not telling the truth about the 2016 election and the fictional role Kennedy says Ukraine played in interfering in it to help Hillary Clinton and hurt Donald Trump.
You’ll remember that Kennedy, a Republican senator from Louisiana, got into hot water just before Thanksgiving when he claimed that it could have been Ukraine — not Russia — that hacked the Democratic National Committee server and released a series of emails aimed at damaging Clinton’s campaign via the website WikiLeaks. Kennedy later apologized — to CNN’s Chris Cuomo — for making that claim, acknowledging that it was the Russians who had hacked the DNC server.
Case closed! Except not!
Because on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Kennedy went back to claiming Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.
KENNEDY: I think both Russia and Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election. I think it’s been well documented in the Financial Times, in Politico, in The Economist, in the Washington Examiner, even on CBS, that 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. They worked with a DNC operative…”
Later, there was this back-and-forth between the two men:
KENNEDY: You should read the articles, Chuck, because they are well-documented. And I believe that a Ukrainian district court in December 2018 slapped down several Ukrainian officials for meddling in our elections as a violation of the Ukrainian law. Now, I did not report those facts, and reputable journalists reported those facts. Does that mean that the Ukrainian leaders were more aggressive than Russia? No. Russia was very aggressive and they’re much more sophisticated, but the fact that Russia was so aggressive does not exclude the fact that President Poroshenko actively worked for Secretary Clinton.
TODD: My goodness. Wait a minute. Senator Kennedy, you now have the president of Ukraine saying that he actively worked for the Democratic nominee for president. I mean come on. You realize that the only other person selling this argument outside of the United States is Vladimir Putin. … You have just accused the former president of Ukraine — You have done exactly what the Russian operation is trying to get American politicians to do. Are you at all concerned that you have been duped?
KENNEDY: No. Just read the articles.
Let’s start with some facts.
The intelligence community concluded in early 2017 that Russia interfered in the election to help Trump and hurt Clinton, including hacking a Democratic National Committee server and leaking damaging emails. They did so with a deep, broad and strategic effort led by a troll farm designed to push misinformation and sow confusion online. The intelligence community’s findings were affirmed by a nearly two-year investigation by former special counsel Robert Mueller. The Senate Intelligence Committee, run by North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr, drew that same conclusion.
Fiona Hill, a former Russia adviser on the National Security Council for the Trump administration, said this under oath to the House Intelligence Committee just before Thanksgiving:
“Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country — and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”
So, that’s that. It is indisputable that Russia interfered in the election to help Trump and hurt Clinton because they believed Trump would be better for their country’s long-term interests in the world. Period. End of sentence. End of discussion.
Now, what Kennedy is claiming here is that Ukraine also interfered in the election. That this could be a “both/and” situation; Sure, Russia interfered for Trump but Ukraine interfered for Clinton! So it pretty much evened out!
The issue with this claim, and I have to believe Kennedy is smart enough to know this, is the thread he is hanging the Ukraine meddling story on is wafer thin.
What Kennedy refers to in his interview with Chuck is a lot of the same stuff that Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes, a California Republican, brought up during the public impeachment hearings. And what the articles Kennedy points to make clear is that there were absolutely some powerful people in Ukraine who didn’t like Trump and would have preferred Clinton win. (Much of the Ukraine criticism was based on Trump’s dismissive attitude to Russia’s seizure of Crimea.)
But if a foreign official — or even foreign officials — making disparaging comments about the prospect of a Trump presidency means they were interfering in the election, then, well, a WHOLE lot of countries “interfered” in the 2016 election.
Of course, we are comparing apples and oranges here. On one side, we have Russia engaging in a multi-pronged, coordinated disinformation effort to influence the American election — an effort that led to the indictments of 12 Russian military intelligence agency members by Mueller. On the other side, we have a handful of Ukrainian officials offering somewhat negative comments about Trump in op-eds and personal Facebook posts.
What Russia did isn’t in the same universe as a few Ukrainians offering critiques of Trump. Not even close.
Trump, who has shown little regard for facts on the 2016 election, tweeted his support for Kennedy’s comments Monday. “Thank you to Great Republican @SenJohnKennedy for the job he did in representing both the Republican Party and myself against Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd on Meet the Depressed!”
Clinton weighed in on Kennedy’s latest comments Monday morning on Twitter: “Sen. Kennedy, why are you parroting Russian propaganda that U.S. intelligence officials tell us are designed to divide our country? Did you miss the briefing that day?”
Kennedy should know better. And what’s worse is that he probably does.