A Republican senator accused of “peddling Russian propaganda on national television” insisted he was not worried that he’d been duped by Vladimir Putin.
Speaking to NBC’s Chuck Todd on Sunday morning, GOP politician John Kennedy insisted that both Ukraine and Russia had meddled in the 2016 presidential election, and that Ukraine’s former president Petro Poroshenko had “actively worked” for Hillary Clinton.
Mr Kennedy claimed not to have been present when intelligence officials reportedly briefed senators that theories of Ukrainian interference – capitalised on by Donald Trump and mentioned in the ongoing impeachment inquiry – were a product of Russian propaganda.
Visibly shocked by Mr Kennedy’s remarks, Mr Todd accused the senator of doing Donald Trump’s “dirty work” and falling for Russian intelligence efforts.
“Now come on, you realise the only other person selling this argument outside the US is Vladimir Putin?” Mr Todd asked.
“This is what [Mr Putin] said on 20 November: ‘Thank God nobody is accusing us anymore of interfering in US elections. Now they’re accusing Ukraine. Well, let them sort this out among themselves.’
“You’ve done exactly what the Russian operation is trying to get American politicians to do. Are you at all concerned that you’ve been duped?”
The Republican senator replied that he was not, and referred to a 2018 court ruling and several articles by the Economist, Financial Times and Washington Examiner.
The 2018 ruling found Ukrainian politicians guilty of US electoral interference over their decision to reveal that Mr Trump’s disgraced campaign adviser Paul Manafort’s name appeared in a former Ukrainian president’s ”black ledger”. The decision was overturned in July.
The conspiracy theories about Ukrainian interference also play a significant role in the ongoing impeachment inquiry.
During his 25 July call with president Volodymyr Zelensky, Mr Trump repeated a long-discredited theory that casts aspersions on Russia’s role in hacking the Democratic National Committee server, instead implicating Ukraine.
Mr Trump insisted that Mr Zelensky investigate the allegations, as well as accusations of wrongdoing by Democratic former vice-president Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
The Democrats claim the president’s demands constituted a quid pro quo, as he had ordered nearly $400 million in US military aid withheld.
Testifying during the impeachment inquiry’s public hearings, a former White House adviser on Russia, Fiona Hill, described Mr Trump’s push to investigate alleged Ukrainian interference as a “fictional narrative … propagated by the Russian security services themselves”.
“The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016. This is the public conclusion of our intelligence agencies, confirmed in bipartisan congressional reports.
“It is beyond dispute, even if some of the underlying details must remain classified.”
Mr Kennedy was appearing on NBC days after apologising for remarks made on Fox News in which he claimed not to know whether Ukraine or Russia had hacked the DNC server in 2016.
On Sunday, he claimed to have misheard the presenter’s question, before going on to make the fresh claims that the former Ukrainian president had “actively worked” for Hillary Clinton.