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Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) argued in a testy exchange on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he believes "both Russia and Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election," claiming without evidence that former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko "actively worked" for Hillary Clinton.

The exchange:

KENNEDY: You should read the articles, Chuck, because they are well-documented. And I believe that a Ukrainian district court in December 2018 slapped down several Ukrainian officials for meddling in our elections as a violation of the Ukrainian law. Now, I did not report those facts, and reputable journalists reported those facts. Does that mean that the Ukrainian leaders were more aggressive than Russia? No. Russia was very aggressive and they're much more sophisticated, but the fact that Russia was so aggressive does not exclude the fact that President Poroshenko actively worked for Secretary Clinton.
TODD: My goodness. Wait a minute. Senator Kennedy, you now have the president of Ukraine saying that he actively worked for the Democratic nominee for president. I mean come on. You realize that the only other person selling this argument outside of the United States is Vladimir Putin. ... You have just accused the former president of Ukraine — You have done exactly what the Russian operation is trying to get American politicians to do. Are you at all concerned that you have been duped?
KENNEDY: No. Just read the articles.

The big picture: Last Sunday, Kennedy told Fox News' Chris Wallace he believed a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine tried to hack the Democratic National Committee's computers during the 2016 election. The next day, he told CNN's Chris Cuomo he misheard the question and was wrong, stating, "I've seen no indication that Ukraine tried to do it."

  • The White House's former top Russia expert Fiona Hill testified that the theory that Ukraine interfered in the election is "a fictional narrative that is being perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves."
  • The New York Times has also reported that intelligence officials briefed senators in recent weeks about Russia's years-long campaign to frame Ukraine, but Kennedy told Todd that he did not attend the briefing.

Reality check: Many of the claims of interference that Kennedy cites relate to Ukrainian officials making disparaging remarks about Trump during the campaign, most notably after the then-candidate made comments about the U.S. possibly recognizing Crimea as Russian territory.

  • These scattershot criticisms differ greatly from the top-down, large-scale interference operation that the U.S. intelligence community has concluded was ordered directly by Vladimir Putin.
  • Kennedy also claims that a Ukrainian court ruled that Ukrainian officials had meddled in the U.S. elections by releasing damaging information about former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. However, an appeals court later canceled that ruling, according to the Kyiv Post.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Virginia attorney general fires Jan. 6 investigator from university post

McIntire Amphitheater at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: Robert Knopes/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The lead investigator for the Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the Capitol riot has been fired from his position as the University of Virginia's counsel by the state's new Republican attorney general, per the Washington Post.

Why it matters: Democrats say the removal of Tim Heaphy from his post after some three years while he's on leave from the university to investigate the insurrection is likely "retribution" for the House probe — an accusation strongly denied by the office of state Attorney General Jason Miyares (R).

4 hours ago - World

Taiwan's military scrambles jets after detecting 39 Chinese warplanes

J-20 stealth fighter jets in Zhuhai in the Guangdong Province of China last year. Photo: Chen Jimin/China News Service via Getty Images

Taiwan's defense force said 39 Chinese warplanes flew into its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Sunday.

Why it matters: The largest Chinese air force incursion into the zone since October came a day after the U.S. and Japanese navies conducted a joint exercise in the Philippine Sea.

6 hours ago - Sports

Gonzaga University revokes NBA great John Stockton's tickets over mask stance

Former Utah Jazz player John Stockton during a 2017 press conference in Salt Lake City. Photo: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Gonzaga University suspended the season tickets of notable alumni John Stockton after the NBA Hall of Famer failed to comply with the school's basketball games mask mandate, the Spokesman-Review first reported.

Driving the news: "Basically, it came down to, they were asking me to wear a mask to the games and being a public figure, someone a little bit more visible, I stuck out in the crowd a little bit," the former Utah Jazz point guard told the outlet in an interview Saturday.