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Kennedy needs comment clarification again

So, did Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy finally step off the ledge this time?

Last week, Kennedy provoked commentary on two national media appearances. In the first, he said that the Ukraine may have sponsored hacking of former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton campaign computers. In the second, he said he had misunderstood the question to be one of general election interference, that he never meant to say Ukraine backed hacking, and that he would stand by a characterization that the Ukraine did try to interfere in that 2016 election.

This clarification brought partisan attacks from the media, both nationally and in the state, long on assertion but short on factual basis. In essence, meticulously compiled investigative journalism reports which never have been refuted (although recently one of the original reporting media outlet tried to downplay the information by relying heavily on semantics) support Kennedy’s stance.

Then this weekend, Kennedy doubled down. In yet another national media appearance, he extended his remarks by saying that then-Ukrainian Pres. Petro “Poroshenko actively worked for Secretary Clinton” in her campaign. One news story about his remarks called that an “unproven theory” and “unfounded accusation.”

The evidence is clear on Kennedy’s more general statement that Ukrainian government operatives did try to interfere with the 2016 election in a way that would benefit Democrats and Clinton: that happened. That for the assertion of active Ukrainian presidential involvement with the Clinton campaign is murkier.

According to seminal reporting on the issue, the Ukraine intervened in two ways: through a consultant named Alexandra Chalupa in the pay of Democrats during much of the campaign, and by staffers from the Ukrainian embassy in Washington, DC acting in ways to favor privately and publicly whoever ran against eventual Republican Pres. Donald Trump. Embassy officials assisted Chalupa in gathering information that could reflect poorly on then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and she in turn disseminated this to the Clinton campaign. Some embassy officials also made critical remarks about Trump during the campaign, and an official government agency at one point tried to implicate Manafort in receiving money from pro-Russian operatives that never found corroboration.

On the surface, it would appear the intervention came from disparate officials partly aided by someone not directly related to the Clinton campaign, which would seem to contradict Kennedy’s statement. However, both named and unnamed Ukrainian sources insist that these kinds of activities – assistance to Chalupa, the government investigation into Manafort, its representatives’ critical statements about Trump who it saw as a regime opponent, and its giving the campaign a cold shoulder in the belief he was couldn’t win and interacting with it in any way would anger Clinton – couldn’t have happened without a blessing all the way from the top.

Parsing Kennedy’s statement reveals meanings both compatible and incompatible with this reality. If “actively worked for” stands in for “close coordination bilaterally between two leaders,” that wasn’t the case that Poroshenko “actively worked for” Clinton’s campaign. But if it means “for your regime’s perceived best interest undertaking measures without coordination to see that Clinton wins,” then indeed Poroshenko “actively worked for” Clinton’s election.

Kennedy should ensure that the world understands he means that Poroshenko – defeated earlier this year for his own reelection – engaged in a behind-the-scenes campaign to promote the election of Clinton independently of her campaign as a means of defeating Trump and not that Poroshenko conspired with the Clinton campaign on this account. That view is defensible, not “unfounded” or “unproven.” Thus, for him the third time will have to be charm.

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