For years now, Russia has sought to frame Ukraine for its own actions interfering with the 2016 presidential election, the New York Times reported, citing three American officials. And, despite being briefed on Russia’s efforts, some in Congress are pushing these conspiracy theories, as seen in Republicans’ questions and speeches during the impeachment hearings.
The White House’s former top Russia advisor, Fiona Hill, backed up the intelligence community’s assertion in her impeachment testimony on Thursday, saying, “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 Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”
Fiona Hill addressed Republican members of Congress promoting the conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election: "This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves." pic.twitter.com/1czUtCeWVT
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) November 21, 2019
According to the Times, beginning in 2017, Russian intelligence agents spread misinformation that Ukraine was behind the 2016 election hacking, mixing facts — that a very small number Ukranians did try to stop Trump from being elected — with blatant conspiracy theories. These agents, trying to mask the source of this smear campaign, then used oligarchs and businessmen as intermediaries to spread the information to American politicians and journalists. American intelligence officials have briefed senators and their aides on this very issue in recent weeks.
But the success of the Russian smear campaign was evident in the impeachment inquiry hearings where Republicans, led by Rep. Devin Nunes, and backed up by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, were clearly ignoring intelligence officials’ warnings and pushing the conspiracy theories.
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The throughline between Russian and Republican talking points is blatantly obvious. On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to push the notion of Ukrainian meddling. He even celebrated that US politicians were forwarding Russian talking points on the matter. “We see what is going on there in the US now. Thank God nobody is accusing us anymore of interfering in the US elections. Now they’re accusing Ukraine,” he said.
Here's how Putin feels about the impeachment hearings: "Thank God nobody is accusing us any more of interfering in the U.S. elections."
"Now they're accusing Ukraine" pic.twitter.com/zQ14uRgWKG
— Bloomberg TicToc (@TicToc) November 21, 2019
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also trumpeted the legitimacy of the debunked claims while placing doubt on Hill’s testimony, saying, “I think they did,” when asked whether Ukraine meddled in the 2016 elections.
And throughout the hearings, Republican House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) floated the accusation numerous times, saying, “President Trump had good reason to be wary of Ukrainian election meddling against his campaign.”
Trump, of course, has been pushing these conspiracy theories for a while, most recently on Fox and Friends Friday morning, where he once again alleged that Ukraine has the DNC server that was hacked ahead of the 2016 election. “They gave the server to CrowdStrike… that’s what the word is,” he said.
It’s clear that Russia’s plan was to reel in as many Republicans as they could with their Ukraine conspiracy theories to make Russia look innocent. But do we really buy that Republicans have fallen for this blatant campaign? Or are they merely using it as a means to an end to exonerate their president? Either way, the damage is done, and it’s looking like even more harm is coming in 2020.