In a fiery back-and-forth on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) declared there is “considerable evidence” that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, echoing debunked claims recently spread by other GOP leaders.

The show’s host, Chuck Todd, asked the senator if he believed Ukraine had attempted to sway the 2016 election.

“I do,” Cruz said.

Todd’s eyes grew wide and he raised his eyebrows in surprise: “You do?”

Cruz then argued that “the media” downplays evidence about Ukrainian interference to emphasize Russia’s efforts to support then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016.

“Of course Russia interfered in our election,” Cruz said. “But here’s the game the media is playing: Because Russia interfered, the media pretends nobody else did. Ukraine blatantly interfered in our election. The sitting ambassador from Ukraine wrote an op-ed blasting Donald Trump during the election season. That is unusual.”

Cruz went on to cast that op-ed challenging Trump’s comments about the Russian occupation of Crimea as an equivalent violation of U.S. elections as Russia’s hacking of Democratic National Committee computers to benefit Trump.

Cruz is among the notable Republicans to spread the claim that Ukraine interfered in the last U.S. election. The theory has popped up amid the Democratic impeachment inquiry into Trump’s attempts to get Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, an action House Republicans claimed last week was based on “genuine and reasonable” suspicions. Several Senate Republicans repeated the allegations of Ukrainian interference to reporters last week, including Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and John Neely Kennedy (R-La.).

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said Ukrainian officials had been “cheerleading” for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016, and said their support for her was “not insignificant.”

Over the past three years, President Trump and some of his allies have at times mimicked Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric on election interference. (The Washington Post)

But current and former federal officials have rejected the theory that Ukrainian officials sought to improperly influence the 2016 election. A top-ranking State Department official, David Hale, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Dec. 3 he was not aware of any evidence of Ukrainian interference. Fiona Hill, a former White House adviser on Russia, went even further in dismissing the conspiracy theory.

“This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services,” Hill said last month.

Other GOP leaders, including Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), have also rejected the claim that the Ukrainian ambassador’s op-ed amounts to election interference.

On Sunday, Todd noted Cruz’s defense of the Ukraine theory seemed strange given Trump’s false attacks against him during the 2016 primary. Trump aired a vague claim aimed at the senator’s wife, spread a false allegation that Cruz is not a “natural-born” citizen, and endorsed a conspiracy theory that Cruz’s father played a role in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

“Senator, this sort of strikes me as odd,” Todd said. “Because, you went through a primary campaign with this president. He launched a birtherism campaign against you. He went after your faith. He threatened to, quote, ‘spill the beans’ about your wife.”

The host suggested Cruz was now helping to spread false claims made by Trump because they are politically expedient.

“Is it not possible that this president is capable of creating a false narrative about somebody to help him politically?” he asked.

“Except that’s not what happened,” Cruz replied.

Conservative publications and Trump himself praised Cruz for the interview, with the president tweeting, “Thank you Ted.” Cruz also shared Trump’s Sunday tweets promoting the “Meet the Press” interview, which quoted the senator calling the impeachment inquiry a “kangaroo court.”

But critics, including some from the GOP, lashed out at Cruz over his “Meet the Press” performance. Charlie Dent, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, said on “CNN Newsroom” that he could not understand why Cruz would share the Ukraine claims.

“I can’t explain it,” Dent said Sunday. “You would think a man like that would have more self-respect. After all the things President Trump said about him and his family, you would think he would be out there trying to speak truth to power at a time like this.”

After Sunday’s interview, Cruz took to Twitter to defend himself. Responding to Todd’s interview and an Axios write-up, Cruz said the publications were “deliberately LYING” by reporting the lack of evidence to support claims of Ukrainian interference.

“They know there’s significant evidence of Ukrainian corruption, but they refuse to report it,” Cruz wrote in a tweet Sunday. “When anyone points to actual facts, they scream ‘Russian conspiracy.’ This isn’t journalism; it’s partisan propaganda.”