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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.

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Why it matters: Across the administration, there's a consensus the U.S. relationship with China will be the most critical — and consequential — of Biden's presidency. From trade to Taiwan, the stakes are high. Burns could be among the first batch of diplomatic nominees announced in the coming weeks.

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Why it matters: While it's true some elements of the package — namely, the targeting of Russia's sovereign debt — represent significant punitive measures against Moscow, it leaves plenty of wiggle room for the Russian president.