Last week a group of Republican legislators traveled to Russia to meet with lawmakers on a host of issues. But if one was to watch MSNBC – specifically, Rachel Maddow’s program – they would walk away thinking the Republicans didn’t bring up election meddling or Russia’s invasion of Crimea.
On July 3, Maddow used her eponymous program, which is second only to Sean Hannity in number of average viewers, to falsely suggest the GOP lawmakers didn’t even bring up these hot-button topics during their four-hour meeting with Russian lawmakers.
"[Russian parliament] has also been bragging about how the Americans haven’t raised any real complaints at all; not on Crimea, not on them messing with the election … uh, it’s been awesome," Maddow said. "That is not how these things usually go."
Maddow then brought on a guest, former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, to agree with her that it was “disappointing” that the GOP delegation didn’t discuss tough issues with Russian lawmakers.
On Maddow’s MSNBC blog, Steve Benen published a piece two days later making the same claim, and included two paragraphs from a Washington Post article that quoted Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), who attended the meeting, as saying: “I’m not here today to accuse Russia of this or that or so forth.” From that quote, Benen made the claim that Republicans didn’t discuss Russia’s election meddling or its invasion of Crimea.
“Did the Americans make the trip to take a firm stand against our attackers? Hardly. They had no interest in confronting Russian officials over their election interference, preferring instead to let bygones be bygone,” Benen wrote. “There was no reason for the delegation to be partisan, but it was. There was no reason for these Republicans to give the Kremlin a pass on its misdeeds, but they did. There was no reason for the GOP lawmakers to exclude election meddling and the fate of Crimea from their discussions, but they did that, too.”
Had Benen continued to read the Post article, he would have seen that both of those topics were discussed. Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-LA) also attended the talks and told the Post that the meetings were “damn frank, very, very, very frank, no holds barred.” He also said he “asked our friends in Russia not to interfere in our elections this year” and “to exit Ukraine and allow Ukraine to self-determine.” He added that Crimea and Syria were also discussed.
My former Washington Examiner colleague Byron York spoke to other Republicans who were in Russia who also said the election and Crimea were discussed at length.
"We really hammered, especially, on the election meddling," Sen. John Thune (R-SD) told York. "We got into Syria, we got into Ukraine, we got a little bit into nuclear weapons issues, but by and large, I would say without question the issue we hit the hardest was the issue of election meddling."
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) told York the Russian officials pushed back on the topic of election meddling.
"I wasn't expecting anybody to confess anything, and of course they didn't," Johnson told York. "They just pushed back. They said you guys do way worse than we have done."
Other media outlets reported at the time of the delegation that the election and Crimea were discussed. The Associated Press began its report on the meeting by writing: "Visiting U.S. senators on Wednesday urged Russia not to meddle in the U.S. midterm election in November if it wants to improve strained bilateral ties." NPR began its report similarly.
Yet here was MSNBC’s biggest star claiming otherwise. Russian lawmakers did speak positively about the meeting, but never said such important issues were not brought up.
Vyacheslav Nikonov, a member of the Russian assembly, told the Post the meeting with Republicans "was one of the easiest ones in my life." He said the issue of election meddling "was raised in general form." Sergey Kislyak (the former Russian ambassador to the U.S. who led to Michael Flynn’s resignation) said the Republicans’ willingness to come to Russia was "probably good confirmation of a readiness to start a dialogue – something that we lacked for a long time."
The extent to which the matters were discussed – or the heatedness of the discussions – may not be known, but what is known is that the election and Crimea were brought up during this trip, contrary to what MSNBC claims.