Kennedy doubles down on alleged Ukraine meddling amid criticism

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) doubled down Monday on his claim that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election amid high-profile criticism of his remarks. 

Kennedy, speaking to reporters in the basement of the Senate, pointed to news articles that he had printed out and was carrying along with handwritten notes. 

"I based my comments to Chuck [Todd] on the reporting in the Politico magazine, on reporting in the Financial Times, The Economist, the Washington Examiner," Kennedy said. "You can get copies if you'd like from the office." 

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Kennedy read passages from a 2016 Financial Times article headlined "Ukraine’s leaders campaign against 'pro-Putin' Trump." He also referenced a headline from a 2018 New York Times story titled "Ukraine Court Rules Manafort Disclosure Caused 'Meddling' in U.S. Election." 

The New York Times reported that a Ukrainian court found that officials broke the law when they disclosed alleged payments from a pro-Russia party in Ukraine to Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortOur Constitution is under attack by Attorney General William Barr Bannon trial date set in alleged border wall scam Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention MORE, Trump's former campaign manager. The Ukraine district court, according to The New York Times, found that the violation "resulted in meddling in the electoral process of the United States."

Kennedy said he has not been briefed by the intelligence community and had not spoken to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph MaguireJoseph MaguireCongressional Democrats request FBI briefing on foreign election interference efforts Wells Fargo told employees to delete TikTok from work phones Hillicon Valley: Pompeo floats TikTok ban | Civil rights groups slam Facebook after call | Election security funding included in proposal MORE or other top officials on the issue.

"I don't need to be briefed in order to read," Kennedy added.

Kennedy's comments come after he sparked backlash during an interview on "Meet the Press" over the weekend when he told host Todd that he believed Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election. 

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“Russia was very aggressive, and they're much more sophisticated, but the fact that Russia was so aggressive does not exclude the fact that President Poroshenko actively worked for Secretary Clinton,” Kennedy said on Sunday in reference to former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonButtigieg stands in as Pence for Harris's debate practice Senate GOP sees early Supreme Court vote as political booster shot Poll: 51 percent of voters want to abolish the electoral college MORE.

His comments earned him praise from President TrumpDonald John TrumpOmar fires back at Trump over rally remarks: 'This is my country' Pelosi: Trump hurrying to fill SCOTUS seat so he can repeal ObamaCare Trump mocks Biden appearance, mask use ahead of first debate MORE but widespread criticism from Democrats. 

Clinton called out Kennedy on Twitter, questioning why he was "parroting Russian propaganda that U.S. intelligence officials tell us are designed to divide our country." Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSenate Democrats introduce legislation to probe politicization of pandemic response Schumer interrupted during live briefing by heckler: 'Stop lying to the people' Jacobin editor: Primarying Schumer would force him to fight Trump's SCOTUS nominee MORE (D-N.Y.) also took an indirect hit at Kennedy, saying the claim that Ukraine meddled in the election was "a lie spread by [Russian President] Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinEx-Trump national security adviser says US leaders 'making it easy for Putin' to meddle The Hill's Campaign Report: GOP set to ask SCOTUS to limit mail-in voting Putin calls on UN to strengthen World Health Organization MORE."

The intelligence community previously released a report detailing Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. There is no evidence to suggest that Ukraine interfered as well. 

Fiona Hill, a former top Russia analyst for the White House, testified last month in House Democrats' impeachment inquiry that the claim that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election was a "fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves."

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Kennedy on Monday said Hill was "entitled to her opinion." He also noted that he believes Russia meddled during the 2016 election, calling Moscow "the master" of election interference. 

"But I was asked a question: Did Ukraine meddle? And clearly at least according to these journalists they did," Kennedy said. 

The senator added that he believes "Putin is a thug. I think he is a monster. I think he's running a third-world country. ... I don't trust the son of a bitch as far as I can throw him."