'I was wrong': GOP senator backtracks after pushing debunked Ukraine conspiracy

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Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) says he only pushed Russian propaganda because he misheard a Fox News host's question.

A Republican senator who pushed the debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine was responsible for hacking Democratic emails in the 2016 election was forced to backtrack on Tuesday.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) on Sunday claimed Ukraine may have been responsible for interfering in the 2016 election, rather than Russia. The U.S. intelligence community has stated definitively that it was Russia who carried out that interference campaign, and top officials in the administration, including former National Security Council expert Fiona Hill, who testified last week before Congress, have said the theory that Ukraine meddled in the election is effectively Russian propaganda.

Kennedy pushed that conspiracy regardless, during an interview on "Fox News Sunday," telling host Chris Wallace that he didn't know whether it was Ukraine or Russia who hacked the Democratic National Committee servers or emails belonging to members of Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign.

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"I don't know. Nor do you, nor do any of us," Kennedy told Wallace, after being asked who he believed had carried out those interference efforts.

After Wallace reminded Kennedy that the "entire intelligence community says it was Russia," Kennedy responded, "Right, but it could also be Ukraine. I'm not saying that I know one way or the other. I'm saying that Ms. Hill is entitled to her opinion, but no rebuttal evidence was allowed to be offered [during her impeachment inquiry testimony]."

Kennedy also complained that Republicans on the House intelligence committee, which led the public and closed-door hearings over the past several weeks, had not been able to call up witnesses to support the conspiracy. "We don't know if Ukraine did that, we don't know to what extent, because [Democrats] won't let offer his evidence."

On Monday night, Kennedy walked back that comment, telling CNN, "I was wrong."

"The only evidence I have, and I think it's overwhelming, is that it was Russia who tried to hack the DNC computer," Kennedy said. "I’ve seen no indication that Ukraine tried to do it."

Kennedy claimed he'd simply misheard Wallace's question.

Pressed on why Donald Trump himself had repeatedly pushed the Ukraine conspiracy, despite the conclusions of his own intelligence officials, Kennedy argued that certain media reports had raised "questions" about Ukraine's role in 2016.

Special counsel Robert Mueller concluded earlier this year, in his exhaustive 400-plus page final report on Russian meddling, that Russia was undoubtedly responsible for the interference campaign. Among other things, Mueller outlined the ways in which Russia had carried out the effort, using social media disinformation and the hacked Democratic emails to sway public opinion.

Kennedy was not alone this week in pushing the debunked Ukraine conspiracy. Fox News host Tucker Carlson — a top Trump defender — pushed the theory on his show, even going so far as to say he was rooting for Russia to expand its territory by taking over Ukrainian territory.

Ukraine is currently fighting off Russian aggression in the Crimean peninsula, with the backing of the United States. Trump's decision to withhold military aid meant to assist Ukraine in that conflict is at the heart of the current House impeachment inquiry.

"Why do I care what is going on in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia?" Carlson said on his show Monday night. "And I’m serious. Why do I care? Why shouldn’t I root for Russia? Which I am."

The comment sparked immediate backlash on Twitter, and Carlson later claimed that he was only "joking."

"Of course I’m joking. I’m only rooting for America [and] mocking the obsession many on the left have," Carlson said.

Republicans' various attempts to push false narratives like the Ukraine conspiracy appear to be part of a broader attempt to shield Trump from impeachment. Among other things, GOP lawmakers have suggested Trump had the right to be wary of Ukraine and withhold critical military aid, because, they have asserted falsely, Ukraine may have meddled in the previous presidential election.

Experts like Hill say that, not only is that claim false, pushing that conspiracy serves to help Russia, an American adversary.

"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," Hill said in her opening statement at a public impeachment hearing last week.

She noted, "This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.