Two prominent Republican senators — including a Trump defender — reject conspiracy theory on 2016 election interference

Two prominent Republican senators — including a Trump defender — reject conspiracy theory on 2016 election interference
President Donald J. Trump listens as Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., addresses remarks during the federal judicial confirmation milestone event Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Julianna Luz)

Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina insisted on Tuesday that Ukraine had not meddled in the 2016 presidential election, pushing back against a debunked conspiracy theory being promoted by President Donald Trump and many of his supporters, including the authors of the recent Republican impeachment report.

“Our intelligence community and the representatives today from the Department of State indicate that there was not meddling by Ukraine in our election,” Romney told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. “Clearly people in other countries watch our politics and pull for one candidate or another, but the nation that interfered in our elections and that made a concerted effort to influence elections and to hack elections was Russia. And that’s one of the reasons why we have sanctions that are being imposed on Russia and we’ll continue to do everything in our power to dissuade them from interfering again, as they have so significantly in the past.”

Romney refused to comment on other senators’ views when asked if he thought it was dangerous when other Republicans claim that Ukraine had tried to interfere in American elections as well.

Graham expressed similar views while speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

"It was the Russians. I'm 1,000% confident that the hack of the DNC was by Russian operatives, no one else," Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Speaking to CNN, Graham said that "I've got no doubt that it was the Russians who stole the DNC emails. It wasn't Ukraine. Russia was behind the stolen DNC emails and [John] Podesta and all that good stuff."

He later added, “So as to the Ukraine, they had zero to do with the hacking of the DNC and the stealing of the emails. Whether or not people from the Ukraine met with DNC operatives, I don't know. All I've seen is press reports that no one has validated."

The conspiracy theory that Ukraine was involved in meddling in the 2016 elections has been promoted by Trump himself, most notably when he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in July to investigate whether a Democratic National Committee server had somehow wound up in that country. Trump's administration was withholding $391 million in military aid at the time, and the resulting scandal prompted the current impeachment inquiry.

Both Romney and Graham have criticized Trump on previous occasions, although Graham has become one of the president's biggest boosters in the Senate. In an October interview with “Axios on HBO,” Romney criticized Trump as lacking honor for allegedly paying hush money to a porn star to cover up an extramarital affair. That same month, Graham publicly criticized Trump for withdrawing American forces from Syria, a move he said would only help Iran and ISIS and hurt U.S. allies in the region. Both strongly criticized Trump during the 2016 election cycle, with Romney referring to the future president as a “con man” and a “phony” and Graham calling him a "complete idiot" and suggesting that Trump should have been expelled from the Republican Party.

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