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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

Biden's quick-trigger COVID problem

Seems like last year, but this was Thursday in Orlando. Photo: Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP

The Biden administration's handling of the Delta surge has left Americans confused and frustrated, fueling media overreaction and political manipulation.

Why it matters: The past year and a half have left Americans cynical about the government's COVID response, and — in many cases — misinformed or uninformed. We're getting fog and reversals when steady, clear-eyed, factual information is needed more than ever.

34 mins ago - Health

Chart: Less than 0.1% of vaccinated Americans infected with COVID-19

Expand chart
Data: CDC; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Of the 164 million vaccinated Americans, less than 0.1% have been infected with the coronavirus, and 0.001% have died, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why it matters: While "breakthrough cases" have been getting some media attention, the low numbers show that the pandemic is mostly a threat for the unvaccinated population.

Poll: Women of color highly motivated to vote

Voting rights activists, led by Congressional Black Caucus chair Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), protest recent passage of voter restriction laws at Hart Senate Office Building on July 15, 2021. Photo: Alex Wong via Getty Images

Women of color turned out to vote at record rates in the 2020 election, with almost nine in 10 agreeing that the stakes were too high not to vote, according to a new poll.

Why it matters: The findings in the poll, conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of a group of reproductive rights organizations, appear to confirm the highly-motivated voting bloc's emerging power.