John Neely Kennedy, the junior senator from the state of Louisiana, only plays the stereotypical dumb hillbilly character on TV to be relatable to his constituents. He is not a dumb hillbilly. Kennedy graduated from Vanderbilt University and the University of Virginia School of Law before attending University of Oxford (Magdalen College) in Oxford, England.
Fox News’ Chris Wallace called out Senator Kennedy on Sunday after he said he doesn’t know whether it was Russia or Ukraine that interfered in 2016. Chris Wallace Pushes Back on GOP Senator Saying ‘I Don’t Know’ If Russia or Ukraine Interfered in 2016: Every Intel Agency Says Russia:
Wallace brought up President Donald Trump pushed the same Ukraine CrowdStrike talking point that Fiona Hill was smacking down as a fictional narrative that’s been pushed by Russia a day prior before asking Kennedy, “Who do you believe was responsible for hacking the DNC and Clinton campaign computers, their emails? Was it Russia or Ukraine?”
“I don’t know, nor do you, nor do any others,” Kennedy said.
“Let me just interrupt to say the entire intelligence community says it was Russia,” Wallace jumped in to say.
“Right, but it could also be Ukraine,” Kennedy continued. “I’m not saying that I know one way or the other. I’m saying that Ms. Hill is entitled to her opinion, but no rebuttal evidence was allowed to be offered. We know, at least the Republicans in the House wanted to call a witness, a DNC political operative who lobbied the Ukrainian embassy to be involved and get involved in the 2016 election. We don’t know if Ukraine did that, we don’t know to what extent because they won’t let the president offer his evidence.”
As I said, this is not some dumb hillbilly who is willfully ignorant and given to wild conspiracy theories. No, this was something far worse. This is an educated man who knows what the truth is — a bipartisan report prepared by his colleagues on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 Election: Volume I, and Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 Election: Volume II unequivocally established it was the Russians — and he knowingly and purposefully lied to the American people with the malign intent to confuse the public with an alternate reality narrative to defend Donald Trump. He is a dishonest man who is lacking in character and judgment.
Senator Kennedy has taken a public flogging for his ridiculous comments in the media since his appearance on Chris Wallace. And lo and behold, Sen. Kennedy Walks Back Comments About Ukraine: Chris Wallace Was Right, ‘I Was Wrong’:
The senator got some serious blowback for his comments, and [on Monday] CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked him to explain.
Kennedy said “I was wrong” and claimed he misheard what Wallace was saying:
“I was answering one of his questions and he interjected a statement and asked me to react to it. What I heard Chris say was — he made the statement that only Russia had tried to interfere in the election. And I answered the question. That’s not what he said. I went back and looked at the transcript. He said only Russia tried to hack the DNC computer. Now, Chris is right. I was wrong. The only evidence I have, and I think it’s overwhelming, is that it was Russia to tried to hack the DNC computer… I’ve seen no indication that Ukraine tried to do it.”
Kennedy does not deserve credit for a walk back as Cuomo said, however. While Kennedy said he knows Russia hacked the DNC server, he continued to push the alternative reality narrative that “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.” He is a dishonest man who is lacking in character and judgment.
UPDATE: Steve Benen adds:
Asked what evidence he was referring to, Sen. Kennedy 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.”
Aaron Blake of the Washington Post explains Lindsey Graham, John Kennedy, Marsha Blackburn preview an extreme Senate GOP defense of Trump:
Regardless of whether you think President Trump’s conduct with regard to Ukraine is impeachable, it’s objectively true that defending him means entertaining his evidence-free conspiracy theories. The idea that it was Ukraine, rather than Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election has been thoroughly debunked, and the allegation that Joe Biden was trying to help his son’s business by pushing for the removal of Ukraine’s top prosecutor doesn’t even make logical sense.
Even Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have largely steered away from vouching for these theories over the past two weeks. But a few Senate Republicans aren’t being so shy.
Chief among them is Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who announced Thursday that his Senate Judiciary Committee would be launching a review of the situation involving the Bidens and the company that employed his son Hunter Biden, Burisma Holdings. This was the same Lindsey O. Graham who a few weeks ago begged off such an investigation by telling reporters he didn’t want to “turn the Senate into a circus.”
Asked whether his committee should be calling for testimony from figures in the impeachment probe, Graham in late October said, “That makes no sense to me.”
To be clear, his committee is now looking into this even though the Ukrainian prosecutor wasn’t looking into Burisma at the time, even though he was removed for being too soft on corruption, and even though Biden was one of many Western leaders pushing for his removal.
Graham’s fellow Judiciary Committee member Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) leaned into Trump’s other conspiracy theory Sunday in jaw-dropping fashion (above).
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Asked on “Fox News Sunday” whether Russia or Ukraine interfered, Kennedy suggested it was an unknown[.
To be clear, it has been reported that certain Ukraine politicians did things in Hillary Clinton’s favor [writing an op-ed about Trump’s ambivalence towards Russia’s annexation of Crimea]. But as Hill explained last week, none of them was close to or on par with what Russia did, nor is there any evidence that Russia has taken the blame for what Ukraine did.
And Kennedy wasn’t even saying that both Ukraine and Russia interfered; he was asked which one was responsible for the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign email hacks. And even though the U.S. intelligence community has concluded they were perpetrated by Russia and dozens of Russians have been charged by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, he said it could be Ukraine. It’s the kind of thing that even the most extreme House Republicans have shied away from over the past three years.
A third stunning moment on this front in recent days has come from Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). One of the witnesses who testified last week, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, has been the subject of a nasty whisper campaign about his loyalties as a Soviet immigrant. The Purple Heart winner has also been accused of all manner of dirty partisan dealings, without firm evidence to back them up.
It was that void into which Blackburn stepped Friday to declare him “Vindictive Vindman.”
“Vindictive Vindman is the ‘whistleblower’s’ handler,” Blackburn declared.
The claim was both ugly and also completely speculative. Vindman said in his testimony that he had been in touch with a member of the intelligence community about Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, but he declined to name the official on the advice of his lawyer.
It’s possible that person is the whistleblower, but Vindman also testified that he didn’t even know who the whistleblower was. Yet Blackburn went out there and declared not just that it was true but also that Vindman was acting as the whistleblower’s “handler” — connecting the whistleblower’s actions to this immigrant who has basically been accused of being a foreign agent.
Blackburn went on Fox News on Friday night and defended her decision.
“I do stand by the tweet,” Blackburn said, adding that “what we have is someone who defied his chain of command, and his direct supervisor said he had a problem with judgment. He had a problem with the chain of command.
“He talked to somebody in the intel community. He then would not answer that question when he was asked if he had given this information to someone who was the whistleblower. And, of course, this is something that should cause everybody concern.”
None of that defense, you’ll note, is Blackburn saying that what she said is true. But Trump’s defense right now relies on whispers, rumor and innuendo, and some of the senators who will determine his fate have apparently decided they’ll have to do their part.
Dana Milbank at The Post boils it down to its essence: Republicans have a new enemy: Truth itself:
At its core, President Trump’s defense in these impeachment proceedings is not a dispute over the facts of the case, the credibility of the witnesses or the motives of Democrats.
It is a bid to discredit the truth itself.
The Ukraine escapade began, in large part, because Trump pursued a conspiracy theory that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 election to bring about his defeat, a false notion spread by Vladimir Putin and ultimately — with the help of Rudy Giuliani and others — embraced by the president himself.
But to defend Trump, a number of Republicans have concluded that they must establish that he had good reason to believe Ukraine was, in fact, out to get him. They must defend the Putin-planted conspiracy theory.
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The attempt to shift blame to Ukraine has been a daily refrain for Nunes. Democrats “turned a blind eye to Ukrainians meddling in our elections,” he said, ignoring “an election meddling scheme with Ukrainian officials on behalf of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.
”It appears Nunes may have had a hand in shaping Trump’s view, too. Hill, during her deposition, said Kash Patel, a former Nunes staffer who joined the White House, apparently shared information with Trump about Ukraine — so much so that Trump seemed to think Patel was the NSC’s Ukraine director. Hill said “it alarmed everybody.”
After Politico reported on the deposition (the transcript has since been released), Patel on Monday filed a $25 million lawsuit against the news outlet. His lawyer is the same one who has represented Nunes in a variety of lawsuits against some 60 people and entities — including various journalists, news organizations and aTwitter user pretending to be Devin Nunes’s cow — that Nunes believes have done him wrong.
Nunes has been waging a broader campaign against the media, saying they “lurch from the Russia hoax to the Ukraine hoax at the direction of their puppet masters.”
Among Nunes’s pieces of evidence implicating Ukraine: an op-ed critical of Trump by a Ukrainian ambassador; a former DNC official who worked with Ukrainian officials “to dig up dirt on the Trump campaign”; and support by some Ukrainian officials for Hillary Clinton.
Hill, during her testimony, dismissed the server fantasy. Though critical of Ukrainian officials who disparaged Trump, she explained that “many officials from many countries” did the same, and the Ukrainian detractors appeared to be individuals, unlike Russia’s top-down assault [from its intelligence agencies at the direction of Vladimir Putin].
Ambassador Hill called this “politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.” “The impact of the successful 2016 Russian campaign remains evident today,” she said. “Our nation is being torn apart. Truth is questioned.”
The Party of Trump is built upon a foundation of lies. As I have said before, the Party of Trump is a criminal enterprise led by a third-rate mafia “Don” Trump. They are all accomplices, co-conspirators and accessories who aid and abet his criminality and corruption. There is not a patriot among them. They put fealty to their “Dear Leader” above all else, including loyalty to their country and our national security, and their oaths of office to defend the Constitution. They reject the rule of law and are amoral. It is a betrayal of the faith of the American people in our constitutional government. They must all be held accountable.