Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.), who insists on mouthing Kremlin propaganda about Ukraine, incited the ire of Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) argued on the floor, “Let me be clear: The charge that Ukraine had something to do with the Russian meddling in 2016 is a lie spread by Vladimir Putin.” Schumer went on: “To get things off his back. Putin and Russian intelligence services invented that lie to muddy the waters and distract from the fact that Russia, not Ukraine, interfered in our elections. And now, disgracefully, we have sitting U.S. senators helping spread that propaganda in an effort to defend the president." Republicans did not rise up in Kennedy’s defense.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Tuesday, there was this exchange between Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) and David Hale, the State Department’s undersecretary for political affairs:

Coons: Would you agree, as you said in your own opening, that understanding the Russian threat requires our also being clear that there is no evidence of Ukraine having interfered in our 2016 elections?
Hale: Yes, I do, Senator.
Coons: Have you seen any intelligence assessment or any open-source reporting that would support the idea that Ukraine interfered in our 2016 election?
Hale: I have seen nothing that is credible along those lines, sir.
Coons: Are you aware of any U.S. diplomat or executive branch official who is asserting publicly that Ukraine interfered in our 2016 elections?
Hale: Any diplomat?
Coons: Anyone other than President Trump.
Hale: That’s correct, sir.
Coons: So, if an American politician of either branch repeats this Russian disinformation effort, says falsely that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in our 2016 election, does that promote our diplomatic interests or our national security?
Hale: Well, it’s a free country, people can debate any ideas that they want, but our focus at the State Department has been, as it should be, on the proven Russian interference in the 2016 elections and plans to do so in 2020.
Coons: And would it be in the interests of securing our 2020 election to continue distracting the American public, American legislators, from that demonstrated Russian intent to interfere?
Hale: Well again, I said that I have seen no credible evidence about these allegations of Ukraine. So again, as foreign policy practitioners, our focus is not there, it is on the Russian problem.

It now seems that not all Senate Republicans are intent on mimicking Kennedy’s example. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) commented to reporters: “I saw no evidence from our intelligence community nor from our representatives today from the Department of State that there is any evidence of any kind that suggests Ukraine interfered in our elections. We have ample evidence that Russia interfered.” He dismissed Kennedy’s reliance on news reports that the senator from Louisiana falsely claimed implicated Ukraine. "We have to adhere to the facts that’s presented to us by our intelligence community. And I know some people will look at newspaper accounts and say, ‘Gee, this is what I read in the newspaper,’ Romney said. “But not every article is exactly accurate, and sometimes your articles are being promoted by an intelligence source that is trying to push a narrative that is not in our interest.”

Even Trump’s lap dog Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) was not going to buy into the Trump lie on Ukraine hacking the Democratic National Committee. “It was the Russians. I’m 1,000 percent confident that the hack of the DNC was by Russian operatives, no one else,” he told the media Tuesday. “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 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.”

Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) likewise repudiated the notion that Ukraine had done anything akin to what Russia had pulled off in 2016. (Rubio observed: “I think it’s important to distinguish op-eds … from the systemic effort to undermine our election systems. There’s no way to compare any other efforts to what Russia did in 2016. … There’s nothing that compares not even in the same universe.")

It is always refreshing when at least some Republicans refuse to stoop to defending the Trump-Putin line, but their unwillingness to go along with the Ukraine conspiracy theory has several concrete consequences. First, it discredits and undercuts the performance of House Republicans who tried to carry Trump’s water in the Intelligence Committee. Second, it paints Trump as a know-nothing, perhaps a pawn of Putin. (Why then do they continue to back Trump and entrust him with our national security?) Third, Republicans’ refusal to buy into Trump’s claim to be pursuing legitimate investigations into Ukraine’s conduct in 2016 strengthens the conclusion that he and Rudolph W. Giuliani were not out to pursue U.S. foreign policy interests but rather were out to raise baseless suspicions to aid Trump’s presidential campaign. To quote Fiona Hill, former top Russia adviser on the National Security Council, those working at Trump’s behest, including U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, were “involved in a domestic political errand. And we were being involved in national security, foreign policy — and those two things had just diverged.”

Do not get your hopes up that the Senate will vote to remove Trump. However, the supposition that Senate Republicans will endorse Trump’s July 25 call as “perfect” and excuse his search for dirt on a political opponent as part of legitimate national security might be misplaced. Some might even concede that what he did was wrong. That will no doubt induce more Trump tirades. The trial, in which members must sit silently, is not going to be as smooth sailing for Trump as he might like.

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