U.S. officials have reminded elected policymakers more than once about the dangers of promoting Russian disinformation. In fact, the New York Times reported a few 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.
That didn’t stop Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) from helping promote the Kremlin’s propaganda, which led to some rather fierce criticism for the Louisiana Republican. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) saw the pushback Kennedy received, appeared on NBC News’ Meet the Press, and decided to do the same thing. This was the exchange between the senator and host Chuck Todd that raised so many eyebrows.
TODD: Do you believe Ukraine meddled in the American election in 2016?
CRUZ: I do. And I think there’s considerable evidence of that.
TODD: You do? You do?
The Republican went on to concede that Russia “interfered” in the American elections, but he nevertheless chastised the media for playing “a game” that overlooks details that Cruz pretended were true: “Ukraine blatantly interfered in our election.”
This is, of course, precisely what Russian intelligence services want American officials to say.
To bolster his point, Cruz pointed to a 2016 op-ed from a Ukrainian ambassador that disagreed with then-candidate Donald Trump’s vow to consider recognizing Crimea as Russian territory. As grown-ups already know, it’s utterly ridiculous to compare an op-ed to an expansive and expensive covert military intelligence operation launched by the Kremlin.
Indeed, Ted Cruz is no doubt aware of the qualitative differences. He just doesn’t appear to care.
No matter what one thinks of the senator’s politics, it’s probably a mistake to dismiss him as dumb. And therein lies the problem: Cruz, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, almost certainly knows that U.S. national security officials don’t want lawmakers like him echoing Russian disinformation. He also almost certainly knows that the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee determined that Ukraine did not, in reality, interfere with U.S. elections.
But Cruz, like far too many Republicans, has apparently decided it might help the White House to peddle this nonsense, and so they continue to do exactly that.
That said, as we recently discussed, 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 Cruz and his cohorts are promoting 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 Cruz, who really ought to know better, appears to be advancing a disinformation campaign, crafted by Russia, for the purpose of undermining American interests.
Complicating matters, Cruz is hardly alone. Last week, three Sente committee chairmen – Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ron Johnson (R-S.C.), and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) – formally escalated their efforts to investigate the discredited theory about Ukrainian election meddling.
“When Vladimir Putin says stoop, Senate Republicans are asking: how low?” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded in a written statement. The Democratic leader added, “Putin and his intelligence services disinformation campaign team in Moscow couldn’t have cooked up a more useful tool for spreading conjured and baseless conspiracy theories than the one Chairmen Graham, Grassley and Johnson announced today. Every day that Senate Republicans parrot Putin’s talking points further undermines our democracy – and our national security.”
It’s hardly unreasonable to wonder why basic levels of patriotism don’t prevent the kind of mess the public is now confronting.