Washington • Sen. Mitt Romney said Tuesday that it was Russia — not Ukraine — that interfered in the 2016 presidential election, breaking with a number of fellow Republicans who contend, without evidence, that Ukraine may have also tried to meddle in the results.
"I saw no evidence from our intelligence community, nor from the representatives today from the Department of State, that there is any evidence of any kind that suggests that Ukraine interfered in our elections,” Romney, R-Utah, told reporters. “We have ample evidence that Russia interfered in our elections.”
Romney’s comments came after Dave Hale, a top State Department official, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was not a hoax and that there is no proof that Ukraine attempted to upend the election.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., pressed Hale on the latter point, because it is a key argument made by President Donald Trump and his supporters to explain why the administration withheld military aid amid the president’s requests the country investigate its part in the U.S. election.
“Is our national security made stronger or weaker when members of the administration or members of Congress insist on repeating debunked Russian lies?” Menendez asked Hale.
“That does not serve our interest,” the diplomat responded.
Romney's comments underscored a divide among Republicans, some of whom are staunchly defending Trump and others who are persuaded by findings of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia was behind systemic attempts to meddle in the 2016 election.
Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, said a “lot of people” meddled in the election.
“It doesn’t mean that Russia didn’t, but I think North Korea did,” he said. “I think Iran did.”
House Republicans have also pushed the narrative that Ukraine was opposed to Trump and worked against him in 2016.
“There is indisputable evidence that senior Ukrainian government officials opposed President Trump’s candidacy in the 2016 election and did so publicly,” according to a report unveiled Monday by Republicans on three House committees. “It has been publicly reported that a Democratic National Committee operative worked with Ukrainian officials, including the Ukrainian Embassy, to dig up dirt on then-candidate Trump.”
A low-level DNC official did make contacts in 2016 to research Paul Manafort’s ties in Ukraine — Manafort was then Trump’s campaign manager — but the effort appears to have been brief. Some Ukrainian officials also did speak publicly in opposition to Trump, but there was no Ukrainian government effort to undermine the then-candidate, intelligence officials have said.
U.S. intelligence officials have said that the conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, tried to interfere in the election was part of Russia’s “yearslong campaign to essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow’s own hacking of the 2016 election.”
Trump faces possible articles of impeachment from House Democrats who have been investigating the president for holding back hundreds of millions in military and State Department funds from Ukraine, as well as a White House meeting, while simultaneously asking Ukrainian officials to open probes into the 2016 election meddling and an energy company that once counted Hunter Biden as a board member.
Biden’s father is former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential contender.
Trump and GOP supporters have argued the Democrats’ inquiry is a “witch hunt” and an attempted “coup” to remove the president.
The House Intelligence Committee voted 13-9 along party lines — including Utah Rep. Chris Stewart’s “no” vote — to approve a 300-page report finding the president undermined national security in the effort to boost his reelection chances. The report now goes to the House Judiciary Committee, which will consider whether to advance articles of impeachment.
The Democrat-led House could vote this month to impeach Trump, setting up a trial early next year in the Republican-controlled Senate, which will decide whether to remove the president from office.
Romney on Tuesday also tweeted out a video of him during the hearing with Hale where he said Russia’s actions were “extraordinarily alarming” and listed moves by Moscow that were troubling.