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Reed refuses to buy GOP conspiracy theory on Ukraine

WASHINGTON – Rep. Tom Reed still strongly opposes President Trump's impeachment, but the Republican from Corning isn't buying one of the key defenses his GOP colleagues are using to defend the president.

An increasing number of Republicans have been saying, without evidence, that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 presidential election in favor of the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton. In doing so, they have indicated that that alleged interference made it right for Trump to ask Ukraine's president to investigate the matter.

"I don't see that, in my personal opinion," Reed said Wednesday.

While individuals within Ukraine might have acted to boost Clinton, "I don't see that official Ukraine meddling argument," he said.

In contrast, Reed said it's clear that Russia meddled in the last U.S. presidential election.

"I am very confident in that," he said. "And that's why I supported sanctions" on Russia as punishment for trying to influence the U.S. election.

Reed's comments stand in contrast to those of several prominent Republicans who have echoed Trump's unfounded allegation that Ukraine was a major player on behalf of Clinton.

Ukraine’s former president, Petro Poroshenko, “actively worked for Secretary Clinton,” Sen. John Neely Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, said on NBC's "Meet the Press." And Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, said Russia and Ukraine "both meddled."

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But New York Republicans such as Reed have seemed reluctant to take up that argument. Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Long Island Republican, recently told CNN that while some leading Ukrainians favored Clinton, "that's not the same thing as the kind of nefarious intervention that the Russians did."

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia hacked Democratic emails and waged a social media campaign aimed at aiding Trump, but no evidence has surfaced regarding Ukrainian government efforts to influence the campaign.

That's why Democrats have attacked such allegations.

"They have no basis in fact," said Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat called the idea "a hoax" perpetrated by Russian President Vladimir Putin's intelligence agents. He said he was appalled that Republicans and Fox News were spreading that hoax.

"It shows the extreme depths, the febrile depths, to which certain members of the other side will stoop to provide cover to a president accused of serious wrongdoing," Schumer said.

Trump stands accused of threatening to withhold U.S. aid to Ukraine unless that nation investigated that 2016 election conspiracy theory, as well as former Vice President Joseph Biden – a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

The House Judiciary Committee began impeachment hearings Wednesday. After earlier Intelligence Committee hearings on impeachment, Reed said he still had not seen enough proof that Trump deserves to be impeached.

"I just did not see that smoking gun clear evidence of a high crime impeachable-level offense," Reed said.

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