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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

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.

Off the Rails

Episode 2: Barbarians at the Oval

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 2: Trump stops buying what his professional staff are telling him, and increasingly turns to radical voices telling him what he wants to hear. Read episode 1.

President Trump plunked down in an armchair in the White House residence, still dressed from his golf game — navy fleece, black pants, white MAGA cap. It was Saturday, Nov. 7. The networks had just called the election for Joe Biden.

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.