Another Republican Helps Spread Putin’s Ukraine Conspiracy Theories

Ted Cruz is the latest Republican Senator to repeat discredited Kremlin-backed conspiracy theories about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz is the latest Republican Senator to assert that he believes the largely discredited notion that Ukraine sought to interfere in the 2016 Presidential election:

In a fiery back-and-forth on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) declared that there is “considerable evidence” that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, echoing debunked claims recently spread by other GOP leaders.

The show’s host, Chuck Todd, asked the senator if he believed Ukraine had attempted to sway the 2016 election.

“I do,” Cruz said.

Todd’s eyes grew wide and he raised his eyebrows in surprise: “You do?”

Cruz then argued that “the media” downplays evidence about Ukrainian interference to emphasize Russia’s efforts to support then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016.

“Of course Russia interfered in our election,” Cruz said. “But here’s the game the media is playing: Because Russia interfered, the media pretends nobody else did. Ukraine blatantly interfered in our election. The sitting ambassador from Ukraine wrote an op-ed blasting Donald Trump during the election season. That is unusual.”

Cruz went on to cast that op-ed challenging Trump’s comments about the Russian occupation of Crimea as an equivalent violation of U.S. elections as Russia’s hacking of Democratic National Committee computers to benefit Trump.

Cruz is among the notable Republicans to spread the claim that Ukraine meddled in America’s last election. The theory has popped up amid the Democratic impeachment inquiry into Trump’s attempts to get Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, an action House Republicans claimed last week was based on “genuine and reasonable” suspicions. Several Senate Republicans repeated the allegations of Ukrainian meddling to reporters last week, including Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.)

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On Sunday, Todd noted that Cruz’s defense of the Ukraine theory seemed strange given Trump’s false attacks against him during the 2016 primary. Trump aired a vague claim aimed at the senator’s wife, spread a false allegation that Cruz is not a “natural-born” citizen, and endorsed a conspiracy theory that Cruz’s father played a role in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

“Senator, this sort of strikes me as odd,” Todd said. “Because, you went through a primary campaign with this president. He launched a birtherism campaign against you. He went after your faith. He threatened to, quote, ‘spill the beans’ about your wife.”

The host suggested Cruz was now helping to spread false claims made by Trump because they are politically expedient.

“Is it not possible that this president is capable of creating a false narrative about somebody to help him politically?” he asked.

“Except that’s not what happened,” Cruz replied.

Here’s the video of Cruz’s comments:

As noted, Cruz isn’t the first Republican to grab hold of this largely discredited assertion that Ukraine sought to interfere in the 2016 election in favor of Hillary Clinton. It’s a claim that has also been made by other Senators, such as John Kennedy of Louisiana, as well as the Republican membership of the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. When asked for evidence to support this claim, the sole piece of concrete evidence that Republicans point to seems to be an Op-Ed that was written by Valeriy Chaley, who served as Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States from 2015 to 2019 and published in The Hill in August 2016.

That Op-Ed pushed back against arguments that then-candidate Donald Trump had made regarding the Russian annexation of Ukraine which obviously caused concern in Kyiv at the time. A quick Google search, for example, unearths comments that Trump made in late July 2016 just days before the publication of the Op-Ed in which he said he might consider reversing the policy adopted by the Obama Administration and America’s European allies to recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea as well as comments that appeared to downplay the seriousness of Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine. At no point does the Ambassador advocate for or against Trump, Clinton, or any other candidate for President. All he was obviously seeking to do was set the factual record straight after candidate Trump’s obviously misleading statements about the situation in Ukraine and the truth about the annexation of Crimea.

As Katie Hill, a Russia and Ukraine expert who served on the National Security Council until earlier this year, noted in her statement to the House Intelligence Committee last month this entire theory is nothing more than Kremlin propaganda:

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.

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.

The impact of the successful 2016 Russian campaign remains evident today. Our nation is being torn apart. Truth is questioned. Our highly professional and expert career foreign service is being undermined.U.S. support for Ukraine—which continues to face armed Russian aggression—has been politicized.

The Russian government’s goal is to weaken our country—to diminish America’s global role and to neutralize a perceived U.S. threat to Russian interests. President Putin and the Russian security services aim to counter U.S. foreign policy objectives in Europe, including in Ukraine, where Moscow wishes to reassert political and economic dominance.

I say this not as an alarmist, but as a realist. I do not think long-term conflict with Russia is either desirable or inevitable. I continue to believe that we need to seek ways of stabilizing our relationship with Moscow even as we counter their efforts to harm us. Right now, Russia’s security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election. We are running out of time to stop them. In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.

As Republicans and Democrats have agreed for decades, Ukraine is a valued partner of the United States, and it plays an important role in our national security. And as I told this Committee last month, I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary, and that Ukraine—not Russia—attacked us in 2016.

As if to confirm Hill’s assertions, Russian President Vladimir Putin commented days later that Republicans were now diverting attention from the issue of Russian interference in the election by making outlandish and absurd claims about Ukraine:

MOSCOW — 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.’s 2016 presidential election.

What Hill said in her testimony, of course, is confirmed in Putin’s remarks regarding the ongoing impeachment proceedings and the fact that the President and his willing acolytes on Capitol Hill and in conservative media online and on Fox News Channel have completely bought into a conspiracy theory that is, quite simply, too ridiculous to be believed. According to this theory, perhaps best summarized by Byron York in a piece at the Washington Examiner, foreign interference in the election came not just from Russia and its efforts to sow chaos in the United States, in part by working hand in glove with Wikileaks with respect to the hacking and leaking of emails stolen from the server of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton supporter Tony Podesta but also Ukraine. In addition to the aforementioned Op-Ed, York cites social media comments from various Ukraine government officials blasting Trump’s comments about Crimea as well as alleged connections between the Clinton campaign and a Ukrainian official, although he is entirely lacking in providing any evidence of anything concrete to “interfere” in the election.

The allegation about Ukrainian election interference, as Hill noted, is one that Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have been pushing ever since Russia’s role in seeking to disrupt the election was revealed by American intelligence agencies and by the investigation conducted by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller. It’s a claim that soon found its way into the fever swamps of Reddit, 4Chan, and 8Chan, and from there made its way to Alex Jones, other far-right conspiracy sites, and finally Fox News Channel. From there, it was just a matter of time before it became what amounts to the primary defense to allegations of collusion being advanced by the President, and from there that they became linked to American policy toward Ukraine, with the President demanding an investigation into the allegations as a part of the price for releasing military aid and progress in U.S./Ukrainian relations. Given this, it is no wonder that Putin is taking a victory lap as he watches the GOP repeat his propaganda, and it’s yet another example of how the GOP has become the Party of Putin.

FILED UNDER: Congress, National Security, Russia, Ukraine, US Politics, Vladimir Putin,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Scott says:

    Ted Cruz is known to have no principles at all so this is not surprising. I speculate that since he has said that he will limit himself to two terms (we’ll see), he is angling for a Supreme Court nomination where is can bring his special brand of toxicity to the Court.

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  2. An Interested Party says:

    Did you notice the muffled laughter in the background after Cruz made his ridiculous claim? How can these Republicans allow themselves to be emasculated by this president…Cruz, of all people, who has been humiliated by Trump now turns around and defends his conspiracy theories…there must be a balls bin in the Oval Office…the phrase “useful idiot” has never seemed more appropriate…

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  3. Kit says:

    @An Interested Party:

    How can these Republicans allow themselves to be emasculated by this president

    You reminded me of this quotation from Dangerous Liaisons:

    You’ll find the shame is like the pain: you only feel it once.

  4. CSK says:

    I always thought Cruz was a creep, but even with that, his ability to grovel to Trump is astounding.

  5. Kathy says:

    Do you wonder the Cheeto base believes China is paying for the tariffs? Or any of the other outrageous claims Dennison makes to cover up his misdeeds?

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  6. CSK says:

    @Kathy: Cult45 will find someway to rationalize it, just as they’ve done with the wall that clearly isn’t being built. Nothing is ever Trump’s fault.

  7. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Cruz’s claim, that an op-ed constitutes interference in an election, is sooooo foar off the rails it is laughable. Is the Republican electorate really dumb enough to buy this crap?

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: In a word? Yes.

  9. Teve says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: ask yourself if you can imagine JKB and Guarneri saying, “Well that tears it. I am too patriotic to fall for this Russian propaganda, and the Republicans I want to support should be ashamed of themselves for being used by people who are not our friends and wish us harm.”

    😛 😛 😛

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  10. Pete S says:

    It is nice to see a bit of pushback from an interviewer, but they are either trying too hard or not at all. The only follow-up question to a really egregious lie like this is:

    “Do you really believe that? What on earth is wrong with you?”

    Say it over and over again as they double down on the lies. No need for details, Republican supporters at this point have clearly demonstrated that they either cannot or will not bother following details.

    This question covers 90%+ of Republican defenses of Trump.

  11. Scott F. says:

    @An Interested Party:
    This far down the road, for Republican political leaders to admit that Trump is corrupt is to admit that they are complicit in that corruption. It’s “in for a penny; in for a pound” now.

  12. DrDaveT says:

    Could someone in the media please interrupt one of these morons at some point and note that “expressing a preference” is a categorically different thing from “launching a disinformation campaign”??? If a Ukrainian minister makes a public statement about who Ukraine would like to see as US President, that is an official statement — it’s diplomacy. If he hires people to go online and pretend to be US citizens on twitter, or to hack into DNC servers in order to leak damaging info, that’s interference in our elections. See the difference, people?

  13. gVOR08 says:

    Everyone who expected better of Ted Cruz please raise your hand.

    Bueller?

    The trick does not lie in being a gutless, sniveling, self absorbed, careerist asshat. Politicians have always been like that. The trick is spending forty years conditioning a chunk of the electorate to believe their nonsense.

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  14. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve: Of course not. The Russians don’t mean to harm the Republicans; they mean to harm the nation. As long as Republicans are in charge, they have no concern at all about the condition of the nation. It’s great no matter what.

  15. charon says:

    @Scott F.:

    It’s “in for a penny; in for a pound” now.

    Bandwagon also, no one can afford to be out of step with the rest. See Haley, Nikki.

  16. Matt says:

    @An Interested Party: I couldn’t help but laugh every time I see one of Ted Cruz’s “Texas tough” campaign signs. There was a large version of one of those signs hanging on the side of a fence up until a month or so ago. Wonder what happened to cause them to remove it.