Putin relieved GOP lawmakers are blaming Ukraine for Russian election meddling

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Putin has long pushed the baseless conspiracy that Ukraine was responsible for 2016 election interference — and Trump has eagerly latched on.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says he's pleased that the "political battles" in Washington have put on the back-burner accusations that Russia interfered in U.S. elections.

"Thank God," he told an economic forum in the Russian capital on Wednesday, "no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore; now they're accusing Ukraine."

Some Republicans have used the public hearings to tout a discredited conspiracy theory that blames Ukraine, not Russia, for interfering in the U.S. 2016 presidential election.

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In the impeachment hearings, Democrats in Congress say Donald Trump pressured his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to investigate former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden while withholding U.S. military aid to Kyiv, and argue that may be grounds for removing Trump from office.

Trump, multiple officials say, also withheld the aid to secure an investigation into a long-debunked conspiracy about the Democratic National Committee servers, which he believes are being held in Ukraine. (They are not.)

Putin himself has pushed the conspiracy that Ukraine was responsible for 2016 election meddling in the past.

In March 2018, a month after special counsel Robert Mueller handed down indictments for 13 Russians who had been in contact with "unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign," according to court papers, and three Russian companies, Putin suggested that those charged might not actually be Russian.

"Maybe they are not even Russians, but Ukrainians, Tatars or Jews, but with Russian citizenship, which should also be checked," he claimed in an interview with NBC News.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a top Ukraine adviser on the White House National Security Council who listened in on Trump's July 25 call with Zelenskiy and flagged concerns about Trump's request for a "favor" to NSC lawyers, confirmed during his impeachment inquiry hearing this week that the Ukraine meddling conspiracy was indeed a favorite of Putin's.

Asked whether he was aware of any evidence of Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election, Vindman replied, "I am not, and furthermore, I would say this is a Russian narrative that President Putin has promoted."

The dominant consensus within the U.S. intelligence community is that Russia was responsible for interference efforts in the 2016 election. Mueller himself, after a nearly two-year long investigation into the matter, determined that Russia not only meddled in that election but did so to further Trump's bid for the White House and to damage rival Hillary Clinton's chances.

Trump has long maintained there was "no collusion" between anyone on his campaign and Russia, despite extensive, documented ties between the two sides.

Mueller notably did not investigate whether "collusion" existed, as it has no firm legal meaning, but said he was unable to find enough evidence to support a charge of criminal conspiracy against anyone on the campaign.

Additional reporting by Melanie Schmitz.