“Yes, the intelligence community assessed that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at our presidential election,” Hale replied, reading from what appeared to be a prepared response.
“Was the Kremlin’s interference in our 2016 election a hoax?” Menendez followed up, echoing the president’s own language, and eliciting a swift “no” from Hale.
“Are you aware of any evidence that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election?” Menendez continued, to which Hale responded: “I am not.”
Menendez then quoted from the public impeachment testimony of Fiona Hill, the former top Russia expert on the White House National Security Council, who two weeks ago described the theory pushed by Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani as a “fictional narrative that is being perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”
“Do you have any reason to disagree with Dr. Hill?” Menendez asked Hale on Tuesday.
“I do not,” he replied.
After more back and forth, Menendez returned to the subject. “Is our national security made stronger or weaker when members of the administration or members of Congress insist on repeating debunked Russian lies?” he asked.
“That does not serve our interest,” Hale answered.
Hale’s series of responses is a departure from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who told reporters a week ago that he saw merit in investigating such allegations.
“Any time there is information that indicates that any country has messed with American elections, we not only have a right, but a duty to make sure we chase that down,” he said during a press briefing in Foggy Bottom.
And Trump, too, has continued pushing the debunked claims that have formed — in part — the basis of his criticisms of Ukraine and set off the series of events resulting in the impeachment inquiry winding its way through the House.
Trump and Giuliani have found some support for their claims among other GOP lawmakers, who Hill lacerated in her public testimony for giving voice to the conspiracy theory.
“Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country — and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did,” Hill told the Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee, adding that she refused to aid their efforts “to legitimize an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary, and that Ukraine — not Russia — attacked us in 2016.”
That conclusion was borne out in special counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation into 2016 election interference, and the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee separately found no evidence that Ukraine waged a top-down interference campaign akin to the Kremlin’s efforts to help Trump win in 2016.
Following the hearing, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who sits on Foreign Relations, told reporters that Tuesday’s testimony from Hale and another State official further contradicted the Ukraine conspiracy.
“I saw no evidence from our intelligence community, nor from the representatives today from the Department of State, that there is any evidence of any kind that suggests that Ukraine interfered in our elections,” he said, contrasting that with “ample evidence” of Russian interference.