On multiple occasions, U.S. officials have explained to elected policymakers the dangers of promoting Russian disinformation. In fact, the New York Times reported two weeks ago that American intelligence professionals have informed senators and their aides that Russia has engaged in a lengthy campaign “to essentially frame” Ukraine for Russia’s 2016 election attack.
As regular readers know, it was against this backdrop that Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) appeared on Fox News last weekend, insisting that Ukraine may have been responsible for the Russian attack, apparently indifferent to the fact that he was helping disseminate a bogus Kremlin message.
The Louisiana Republican soon after walked back his comments, at least a little, though he continued to argue that there’s “a lot of evidence” that Ukraine “did try to interfere” in our elections – which, again, is exactly the kind of propaganda Moscow wants American politicians to repeat.
All of which set the stage for Kennedy’s appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, where the conservative lawmaker told Chuck Todd, “I think both Russia and Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.” The Republican added that former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko “actively worked for Secretary Clinton.”
It led the host to remind the senator of an important detail:
“You realize the only other person selling this argument outside the United States is this man, Vladimir Putin.”
Todd added that senators were recently briefed on the importance of not saying what Kennedy had just said on the air: “[T]his is a Russian intelligence propaganda campaign in order to get people like you to say these things about Ukraine.”
The Louisianan replied, “I was not briefed.”
It’s not enough to simply marvel at the lengths some Republicans will go to in order to shield Donald Trump from accountability. It’s not enough to note that the bogus claims Kennedy has peddled are wrong. It’s not enough to be gobsmacked by a sitting GOP senator’s capacity for willful ignorance.
What’s every bit as important, if not more so, is the fact that John Kennedy – a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee – is helping advance a disinformation campaign, crafted by Russia, for the purpose of undermining American interests. Told that he’s echoing the Kremlin’s false claims, the Senate Republican didn’t seem to care.
Circling back to a point from last week, it’s hardly unreasonable to wonder why basic levels of patriotism don’t prevent the kind of mess the public is now confronting.