If you’re saying that the Ukrainians interfered with our elections, you’re either bad or dumb. There’s really not much in between. I’ll give Senator Richard Burr the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s the latter. 

When Burr, who is the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was asked about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, he replied, “Every elected official in Ukraine was for Hillary Clinton. Is that very different from Russia being for Trump?” 

Why, yes, Senator. It’s completely different. Russians hacked into the DNC servers and financed an elaborate disinformation campaign to throw our election into chaos and undermine our democracy. Ukraine did not. 

I’ve watched Burr throughout his Senate career and never thought of him as a bad actor. I don’t think he’s the brightest guy in the room, but his motives aren’t generally nefarious. So I’ll assume that Burr is being manipulated by his smarter counterparts in the GOP who are actively spreading disinformation in order to protect Donald Trump. He’s just a guy who wants to go along to get along. He’s more dense than calculating.

Still, Burr should know better. His own committee investigated allegations that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in our elections and found no substance to the accusations. In fact, intelligence sources say the rumor was part of the Russian disinformation campaign to drive a wedge between the US and Ukraine, a country that Russia has invaded. 

Burr may just be an unwitting dupe, but the elected Republicans who are knowingly spreading the disinformation supplied by the Russians are bad actors who need to be held accountable. US foreign policy supports the Ukrainians against Russian aggression. As long as we are allies with the West, it’s in our strategic interest to help Ukraine stay independent from Russia and to support democracy there. Undermining those goals runs counter to traditional American values. 

But more significantly, the Republicans pushing the Ukrainian fallacy are gaslighting the country. They’re playing on the ignorance and biases of Trump supporters and their disinformation is amplified by Fox News and right-wing web outlets like Breitbart. It’s a propaganda strategy straight out of  Joseph Goebbels’ tool box. Tell a lie loud enough and long enough and it becomes the truth. 

Republicans like Sen. John Kennedy and Rep. Devin Nunes are bad actors because they are actively promoting the objectives of Russian foreign policy at the expense of our own. They are spreading information they know to be false in an effort to deceive the American public and protect the president. They are putting their political interests ahead of the interests of the country and our democratic values. 

Right now, Mitt Romney seems to be the only prominent Republican holding on to his integrity. Richard Burr could still step up, but his legacy is at stake. He’s showing his ignorance and gullibility when he repeats the lie laid down by the Trump defenders. He may not ever be a ringleader, but he certainly looks like a dupe. The whole party does.   

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