And as Hill, the former top Russia expert on the White House National Security Council, reminded Republicans last week, the idea that Ukraine was responsible for the 2016 attack is a “false narrative” being “perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services.” It is, in no uncertain terms, Kremlin propaganda intended to hurt the United States.
But Hill’s advice is not the only guidance GOP officials have received on the subject. 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.”
On Saturday, in response to the Times’ reporting, David Laufman, who served as the Justice Department’s top counterintelligence official, wrote, “From this moment forward, any member of Congress or U.S. government official who persists in making this claim is, essentially, aiding and abetting the enemy.”
And yet, as Rachel noted on Friday’s show, a few too many Republicans can’t seem to help themselves. In this case, it’s not just Donald Trump, whose eagerness to toe Moscow’s line has been well documented; it’s also top GOP members of Congress, up to and including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who’ve been willing to cast public doubt about the findings of their own country’s intelligence agencies, even if that means inadvertently aiding Russian security services.
This applies to senators, too. For example, on Meet the Press yesterday, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) told host Chuck Todd that Fiona Hill is “correct that Russia tried to interfere in 2016.” In his next breath, however, Wicker added, “Also, Ukrainians themselves tried to interfere also.”
Around the same time, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) appeared on Fox News Sunday, where Chris Wallace asked the Louisiana Republican whether he believes Russia or Ukraine was responsible for the attack we already know Russia perpetrated.
“I don’t know, nor do you, nor do any of us,” Kennedy said. “Ms. Hill is entitled to her opinion.”
Wallace responded that the “entire” intelligence community points to Russia’s culpability.
“Right, but it could also be Ukraine,” Kennedy said.
Perhaps Kennedy missed David Laufman’s declaration from a day earlier.
Remember, it’s not enough to marvel at the willful ignorance of some far-right members of Congress. Our own country’s intelligence agencies have told senators – explicitly, out loud, in person, and in detail – that the idea of Ukraine being responsible for the 2016 attack is part of a Russian op. At issue is a disinformation campaign, crafted by Moscow, for the purposes of undermining American interests.
With those briefings for senators having already happened, Republicans are presented with a fairly straightforward choice: they can acknowledge reality and endorse the findings of their own country’s government, or they can peddle the line the Kremlin wants to hear because the discredited conspiracy theory may create a political advantage for Donald Trump.
To prioritize the latter over the former necessarily puts GOP officials in a position in which they’re advancing a disinformation campaign created by an American adversary – one that has already attacked U.S. elections and intends to do so again – which our adversary launched to advance its interests, not ours.
It’s hardly unreasonable to wonder why basic levels of patriotism don’t prevent the kind of mess the public is now confronting. The American tradition does not generally feature examples of a major political party helping advance an intelligence operation from a foreign foe.
At times, it feels like the debate is regressing. We’re supposed to be well past the point at which there’s a partisan question about Russian culpability. The underlying point was resolved years ago, recently bolstered by the bipartisan findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee. During last week’s hearing with Fiona Hill, some GOP members briefly seemed annoyed by her pleas, suggesting the Republican Party did not need a reminder about Moscow’s role in the 2016 operation targeting our elections.
And yet, here we are.