After echoing Russian propaganda, GOP senator tries to walk it back

U.S. officials have urged policymakers, more than once, not to promote Russian disinformation about the attack on our 2016 elections. In fact, the New York Times reported late last week that American intelligence professionals have “informed senators and their aides in recent weeks that Russia had engaged in a yearslong campaign to essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow’s own hacking of the 2016 election.”

It was against this backdrop that Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) appeared on Fox News over the weekend, fielding a question from Chris Wallace about which country was responsible for Russia’s attack. “I don’t know, nor do you, nor do any of us,” the Republican senator replied.

The host reminded the Louisianan that the entirety of his own country’s intelligence community pointed to Russia’s culpability. “Right, but it could also be Ukraine,” Kennedy said, apparently indifferent to the fact that he was helping disseminate the Kremlin’s bogus message.

As Politico noted, the GOP senator adopted a different position last night.

Sen. John N. Kennedy (R-La.) walked back on a comment he made Sunday supporting the debunked theory that Ukraine hacked the Democratic National Committee’s emails in 2016.

“I was wrong,” Kennedy said Monday night on CNN. “The only evidence I have, and I think it’s overwhelming, is that it was Russia to tried to hack the DNC computer.” […]

[S]peaking with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Monday, Kennedy said he misheard Wallace’s question.

Because it’s uncommon to see politicians publicly admit mistakes, there’s something refreshing, even heartening, about Kennedy’s on-air acknowledgement that he was wrong.

But at the risk of sounding picky, the senator’s walkback wasn’t as compelling as it could’ve been.

For example, Wallace specifically told Kennedy on Sunday morning, “The entire intelligence community says it was Russia.” The senator replied, “Right, but it could also be Ukraine. I’m not saying that I know one way or the other.” In the same interview, the host asked, “Senator Kennedy, who do you believe was responsible for hacking the DNC and Clinton campaign computers, their emails? Was it Russia or Ukraine?”

It’s not altogether clear what the Republican “misheard.”

What’s more, Kennedy said last night that Russia “tried” to hack the DNC system. That’s not quite what happened: Russia successfully hacked the DNC system, stole materials, and then weaponized stolen documents as part of a military intelligence operation designed to put Donald Trump in power.

Finally, even as part of his apparent mea culpa, Kennedy continued to suggest there was Ukrainian intervention in the U.S. elections in 2016. “There is a lot of evidence, proven and unproven, everybody’s got an opinion that Ukraine did try to interfere, along with Russia, and probably others, in the 2016 election,” the senator said.

Asked what evidence he was referring to, the Louisianan added, “Well, in January of 2017, Politico did a long, long exhaustive article talking about it.”

Kennedy was referring to this piece on Ukrainian efforts to expose ties between Russia and Trump’s team. Politico added overnight, “Several Republicans have been attempting to equate those efforts with the systematic, top-down intervention by Russia in 2016 – a campaign longtime observers determined Ukraine would be incapable of carrying out. Former special counsel Robert Mueller determined in his report on the 2016 election that Ukraine did not lead a major effort to undermine the U.S. election by violating campaign infrastructure in the manner Russia did.”