Like Trump’s 2016 claim, both walkbacks are a little tough to accept.
Carlson’s comments came during an exchange with former Clinton adviser Richard Goodstein. Carlson asked him why we should care about Trump asking Ukraine for specific investigations. “Because people are dying on the front lines,” Goodstein said.
To which Carlson responded: “Why do I care what is going on in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia? And I’m serious. Why do I care? Why shouldn’t I root for Russia? Which I am.”
After social media lit up with the comment, Carlson took time at the end of the show to say he wasn’t serious. “Of course I’m joking. I’m only rooting for America [and] mocking the obsession many on the left have.” When he handed off the show to the next hour host, Sean Hannity joked, “Tucker’s a communist.” Carlson added: “I rooted against Russia when it mattered, by the way."
If it was a joke, it didn’t come across that way in real time. And his entire comment was about how he didn’t even care about Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. He insisted, “I’m serious.” He also then repeated his assertion that he was being serious about the matter. “Why should I root for Ukraine against Russia?” Carlson added shortly after the initial comment. “I’m sincerely confused. … Why should I care at all? … If I don’t root for Ukraine in some esoteric border war with Russia, I’m like a Russian agent?"
So even in his walkback, he wasn’t aligning with a major U.S. ally in the region, Ukraine. That sentiment alone — without the rooting-for-Russia part — is a gift to Moscow.
The other gift to Moscow in recent days came from Kennedy, who said on “Fox News Sunday” that it might have been Ukraine rather than Russia that hacked the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign in 2016. It was precisely the sentiment that former White House aide Fiona Hill warned against a few days earlier, testifying that the very idea was part of a misinformation campaign spearheaded by Russia’s security services.
Here’s the Kennedy exchange:
CHRIS WALLACE: Sen. Kennedy, who do you believe was responsible for hacking the DNC and Clinton campaign computers, their emails? Was it Russia or Ukraine?
KENNEDY: I don’t know, nor do you, nor do any of us. Ms. Hill is entitled to her —
WALLACE: Well, let me interrupt to say — the entire intelligence community says it was Russia.
KENNEDY: Right, but it could also be Ukraine. I’m not saying that I know one way or the other. I’m saying that Ms. Hill is entitled to her opinion, but no rebuttal evidence was allowed to be offered.
Kennedy went on CNN on Monday night to say it was just a misunderstanding.
“What I heard Chris say was — he made the statement that only Russia had tried to interfere in the election,” Kennedy said. “And I answered the question. That’s not what he said. I went back and looked at the transcript.”
Kennedy added: “Chris is right. I was wrong. The only evidence I have — and I think it’s overwhelming is that it was Russia who tried to hack the DNC computer.”
Kennedy is getting credit for saying “I was wrong.” But did he really misunderstand the question?
While Trump apparently believes it might be Ukraine rather than Russia that hacked the Democrats in 2016 — hence his focus on the “server” — other Republicans have taken to arguing that both countries interfered. Kennedy seems to suggest that’s what he was getting at, and that he just misunderstood the question.
But his response indicates that he understood it to be an either-or situation. He is directly asked about the intelligence community’s conclusion — which is that Russia hacked the Democrats — and says, “Right, but it could also be Ukraine. I’m not saying that I know one way or the other.”
What might be most telling is that he refers directly to Hill’s comments. In her testimony, she said it’s damaging to traffic in such rumors about 2016 election interference. But even while doing so, she acknowledged that certain Ukrainians favored Clinton — albeit in ways that didn’t come close to what Russia was doing.
In other words, if Kennedy was saying Ukraine did something, he wouldn’t be contradicting Hill. What contradicts Hill is saying anything that suggests what Russia and Ukraine did were comparable or that it was Ukraine that hacked the Democrats. That’s what Kennedy indicated. And if it wasn’t his intention, he didn’t need to invoke Hill at all.
In her testimony, Hill warned that even leaving such things as open questions plays into the Kremlin’s hands.
“I think that what we’re seeing here as a result of all of these narratives is this is exactly what the Russian government was hoping for,” she said. “They seed disinformation. They seed doubt.”
Even with their walkbacks, Carlson and Kennedy are doing precisely what Hill warned against: muddying the waters when it comes to who is the bad actor in the region and who is our ally. At the very least, you’d think that, given such warnings, they’d want to be more careful.