Congress

Kennedy: ‘I believe what I believe’ on Ukraine's role in 2016 election

Louisiana Republican once again defends his comments on the heated topic

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., waits in the elevator in the Capitol on Tuesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. John Kennedy on Tuesday held fast to his belief that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election, despite the intelligence community concluding the claim is false.

“I believe what I believe. Some people believe otherwise and they’re entitled to it,” the Louisiana Republican said to reporters Tuesday.

[Fiona Hill forceful, direct in countering Republican defense of Trump

Kennedy was defending comments he made Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, where he again stated that he believed both Russia and Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election. It’s a narrative several Republicans have repeated in both the House impeachment hearings and in interviews. 

Kennedy told CNN on Tuesday there was “no question” in his mind Ukraine attempted to influence the 2016 election. He went on to say, “I know that I’ve read that the Intelligence Committee made some kind of finding. I don’t know what it was.”

Sen. Richard Burr said something similar when asked by NBC News  Monday night whether there was any evidence Ukraine meddled in the election. 

“I don’t think there’s any question that elected officials in Ukraine had a favorite in the election,” the North Carolina Republican said. 

The intelligence community has made the determination that while President Donald Trump was not the first pick for some Ukrainian officials, there was not a coordinated effort as there was by Russia to attempt to influence the 2016 election outcome.

In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Tuesday, Democrats used the occasion to ask Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale about possible interference by Ukraine.

When asked by Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., if the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election was a hoax, Hale gave a one-word answer.

“No,” he said. Hale went on to say he was not aware of any evidence that Ukraine interfered in the election. 

Maine independent Angus King reinforced the intelligence community’s finding Monday to CNN, saying he sat through several dozen briefings and meetings on what happened in 2016. 

“In none of those meetings was there ever a hint, a breath, a suggestion, a word that somehow Ukraine was involved in the 2016 election in the interference or the influence campaign,” he said. “It was Russia. And it was Russia in a systematic, widespread way.”

During public November testimony before House Intelligence, Fiona Hill, a Russia expert who worked on Trump’s National Security Council, called out Russia for intentionally attempting to implicate Ukraine, calling it a “fictional narrative.”

While garnering criticism from some, Kennedy’s comments received praise Monday from Trump, who tweeted support for the lawmaker. 

“Thank you to Great Republican @SenJohnKennedy for the job he did in representing both the Republican Party and myself against Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd on Meet the Depressed!”

Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.

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