From James Downie at the Washington Post (opinion):
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) showcasing the “typical shell game” of Republicans on impeachment: Eliminate the importance of the “quid pro quo,” muddy the waters of the president’s motive and distort the impeachment process itself. Since then, the senator from Louisiana has taken his pro-Trump spin to a new level: repeating Russian disinformation without a care.
On Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” Kennedy began his interview with host Chuck Todd with a mea culpa for recently misstating that Ukraine, not Russia, hacked Democratic National Committee computers in 2016. One would think such embarrassment would lead one to be more cautious in his claims about Russia, Ukraine and the 2016 election. Not so with Kennedy.
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Unsurprisingly, Kennedy’s summary of those articles bears little to no resemblance to the actual facts. For example, the Politico article that Kennedy cited reported only that “Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office” and by highlighting former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort’s close ties to Russia.
As Kennedy surely knows, foreign government officials’ public criticism of a U.S. presidential candidate is nowhere close to the hack of a political party or state-directed misinformation campaigns on social media. The former is expected; the latter all but unprecedented. Even Kennedy admitted as much: “Does that mean that the Ukrainian leaders were more aggressive than Russia? No. Russia was very aggressive and they’re much more sophisticated.”
But after that admission, Kennedy made his most extraordinary claim — that former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko himself “actively worked for Secretary Clinton.” Kennedy had no evidence to support this — and as Todd noted, “you realize the only other person selling this argument outside of the United States is … Vladimir Putin.”
The term “useful idiot,” usually attributed to Vladimir Lenin to refer to Westerners unwittingly repeating Soviet propaganda, has often been applied too broadly since its first use. But Kennedy has amplified a Russian misinformation campaign and willfully ignored warnings about said campaign. The result? Moscow’s attempt to “get people like [Kennedy] to say these things about Ukraine” has worked spectacularly. As a phrase, “useful idiot” has never been more apt.
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