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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that Ukraine "blatantly interfered" in the 2016 election, repeating a conspiracy theory that experts warn has been promoted by Russian intelligence services.

"Because Russia interfered, the media pretends nobody else did. Ukraine blatantly interfered in our election. The sitting ambassador from Ukraine wrote an op-ed blasting Donald Trump during the election season. ... It's hysterical two years ago there was article after article after article in the mainstream media about Ukrainian interference in the elections, but now, the Democrats have no evidence of a crime. No evidence of violating the law. And so suddenly Ukraine interference is treated as the media clutches their pearls, oh my goodness, you can't say that! Last week, Chuck, you called Sen. John Kennedy basically a stooge for Putin."
— Ted Cruz to Chuck Todd

Why it matters: Cruz is one of several Republican senators who have refused to disavow the allegations that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, despite receiving a briefing from intelligence officials that this is an alternative narrative being propagated by Russian security services.

  • Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), who said he did not attend the briefing, claimed on "Meet the Press" last week that former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko "actively worked" for Hillary Clinton.

Between the lines: The Ukrainian election conspiracy is one of the defenses that Trump's allies have used to justify his decision to withhold military aid to the country. White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said at a press conference in October that the aid was frozen until Ukraine investigated the interference allegations, before later being forced to walk it back.

Reality check: In 2014, Russia invaded, occupied and annexed the territory of Crimea from Ukraine. In response, the U.S. and much of the international community denounced Russia and refused to recognize its annexation of the peninsula.

  • During the 2016 election, Ukraine's ambassador to the U.S. Valeriy Chaly wrote an op-ed for The Hill in which he criticized candidate Trump for saying he would consider recognizing Crimea as Russian territory. That op-ed is one of several actions that Republicans say amount to election interference.

However, the scattershot criticisms from Ukrainian officials in the aftermath of Trump's Crimea comments differ greatly from the top-down, large-scale interference operation that the U.S. intelligence community has concluded was ordered directly by Vladimir Putin.

  • The Republican-led Senate Intelligence Community released an extensive report that found that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and funded a social media misinformation to sow discord in American politics.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.