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Putin’s Bidding: Sen. Kennedy Repeats Russian Disinformation on Ukraine, Despite Warnings From Intel Officials

Composite. Photo of Sen. John Kennedy and then President-elect Donald Trump during a December 2016 campaign rally in Louisiana by Tammy Anthony Baker (CC-BY-2.0)

US Senator John Kennedy, a reliable Donald Trump defender, ignored warnings from American intelligence officials on Sunday morning as he repeated the Kremlin’s claim that Ukraine, not Russia, may have hacked Democrats and sabotaged the 2016 election. Last year, though, the Louisiana Republican said there was “no question that Russia meddled in our election” after returning from a July 4 trip to Moscow with a handful of fellow GOP senators.

As Trump faces impeachment, partly due to his efforts to push the Kremlin’s narrative of blaming Ukraine, though, Kennedy seems to have changed his mind. This morning, the senator told Fox News that he “(doesn’t) know” if Russia attacked the US election system and that the culprit “could … be Ukraine.”

Just last week, Fiona Hill, a former Trump White House official and expert on Ukraine and Russia, warned members of Congress that the Russian government is pushing a “fictional narrative” to try to pin the blame on Ukraine.

“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,” Hill said during impeachment testimony. 

Days later, the New York Times reported that other US intelligence officials delivered the same warnings to US senators.

‘The Kremlin Apparently Succeeded’

Julian E. Barnes and Matthew Rosenberg reported that “American intelligence officials informed senators and their aides in recent weeks that Russia had engaged in a yearslong campaign to essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow’s own hacking of the 2016 election, according to three American officials.

“The revelations demonstrate Russia’s persistence in trying to sow discord among its adversaries — and show that the Kremlin apparently succeeded, as unfounded claims about Ukrainian interference seeped into Republican talking points.”

Among US intelligence agencies, there is no question that Russia, not Ukraine, was behind the attack on the US election system in 2016, and that they did so to help Trump beat Hillary Clinton. Putin has reportedly pushed the Ukrainian conspiracy theory during private conversations with Trump.

Trump is facing impeachment for threatening to withhold congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine unless its new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, agreed to legitimize conspiracy theories by publicly launching sham investigations against potential Democrat rival Joe Biden and into whether Ukraine interfered in 2016.

On Fox News Sunday, though, Senator Kennedy sought to muddy the waters for Trump, despite warnings from intelligence officials.

“The president and his supporters have said that Ukraine was behind the hacking of the DNC computers and that it wasn’t Russia,” Wallace said Sunday morning. “That was a big issue this week because former NSC official Fiona Hill said that that is Russian disinformation. … But on the other hand, President Trump doubled down on that the very next day. Senator Kennedy, who do you believe was responsible for hacking the DNC and Clinton campaign computers—their emails? Was it Russia, or Ukraine?”

“I don’t know, nor do you, nor do any of us,” Kennedy began. “Mrs. Hill—”

“Let me interrupt to say, the entire intelligence community says it was Russia,” Wallace said.

“Right, but it could also be Ukraine. I’m not saying I know one way or the other. I’m saying Ms. Hill was entitled to her opinion, but no rebuttal evidence was allowed to be offered,” Kennedy said.

‘What Putin Always Wanted’

In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine (which was once part of the Russian Soviet Union), breaking international agreements to annex its Crimea region. The Ukrainian government has been fighting back since to ward off further Russian incursions—aided by the United States. Putin, a former KGB agent, wants to restore the power and dominance of the Soviet-era Russian empire.

Putin believed a Trump presidency would help him toward that goal, in part by undermining U.S. alliances in Europe that have stood as a bulwark against Russian aggression. Indeed, Trump has repeatedly attacked NATO, the longstanding post-World War II U.S. military alliance with Western Europe. Putin has long hated Hillary Clinton, an ardent supporter of NATO and opponent of Putin’s interests.

Counterterrorism expert Malcom Nance told Raw Story recently that the Trump presidency is “the first step of what Putin has always wanted.”

“Putin has always wanted Russia and the Soviet Union, of which Putin is just an extension … he’s just doing a capitalistic extension of the Soviet Union. To these guys, it’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened,” he said. “You nullify the United States’ strengths so that if there is an invasion of the Ukraine, or there is an invasion of another country, the question mark is will the United States be there?”

Putin has reveled this past week as Republican members of Congress circled the wagons around Trump and joined him in suggesting that maybe Ukraine—not Russia—attacked the US election system. Republicans’ own congressional investigations previously pinned the blame on Russia.

“Thank God no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore,” the Associated Press reported the Russian president saying at an economic forum in Moscow. “Now they’re accusing Ukraine.”