Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has broken ranks with President Donald Trump and many of his GOP allies, declaring Tuesday that he is “1,000% confident” that Russia, not Ukraine, interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
His view contradicts a conspiracy theory backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and peddled by Trump and others in his party that Ukraine meddled in the presidential election and framed the Russians.
“It was the Russians. I’m 1,000% confident that the hack of the [Democratic National Committee] was by Russian operatives, no one else,” Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill.
In a subsequent interview with CNN, Graham said he had “no doubt” that it was the Russians who hacked the emails of the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta.
“It wasn’t Ukraine. Russia was behind the stolen DNC emails and Podesta and all that good stuff,” the senator said.
“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 senator joins Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who also told reporters on Tuesday that he’d seen no evidence of Ukrainian meddling, in distancing himself from the theory floated by some of their Republican colleagues.
The break comes amid the House impeachment inquiry, which was triggered by the president’s dealings with Ukraine. At the center of the probe is a July 25 phone call to Ukraine in which Trump referenced the hacking theory to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, urging him to look into CrowdStrike, a California-based cybersecurity firm that had investigated the breach of the DNC email system.
The president called into “Fox & Friends” recently to again push the theory, claiming that CrowdStrike is owned by a “wealthy Ukrainian.” The company is U.S.-owned.
Politico and CNN reported Monday that a GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee found no evidence when investigating allegations of interference by Ukraine, according to sources with direct knowledge of the inquiry.
Graham’s comments contrast with those of Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who declined to directly refute the theory and refused to say whether he saw evidence that Ukraine interfered, despite his own committee’s conclusion that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election and was “overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump.”
Graham is usually a devoted Trump defender. He has blocked a Senate resolution to formally recognize the Armenian genocide at the behest of the White House, opened a formal investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden’s work in Ukraine despite the claims of corruption being widely discredited and unsubstantiated, and repeatedly denied unfavorable but damning testimony against Trump during the impeachment inquiry.
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