WASHINGTON - The top U.S. diplomat is refusing to rule out allegations it was Ukraine, not Russia, which was responsible for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.
Despite repeated findings by U.S. intelligence agencies, which puts the blame on Russia, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday if there is any information "that so much suggests" a Ukrainian attempt to interfere, it deserves attention.
"Anytime there is information that any country has messed with American elections, we not only have a right but a duty to make sure we chase that down," Pompeo told reporters during a State Department briefing.
"To protect our elections, America should leave no stone unturned," he added.
U.S. intelligence officials contacted by VOA declined comment, pointing to previous reports concluding Russia was responsible.
But allegations that Ukraine sought to interfere and sway the result in favor of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton have been gaining momentum among a handful of U.S. lawmakers and prominent supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump.
During impeachment hearings last week, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Devin Nunes, raised the theory, saying Trump had reason to be suspicious of Ukraine because the country was "out to get him."
"It's an inconvenient truth that the Democrats don't want to admit," Nunes said. "It was their operatives that were dirtying up the Trump campaign using Ukrainian sources in 2016, and they do not want us to get to the bottom of it."
Only such thinking has been consistently rejected by U.S. intelligence agencies, which concluded with moderate to high confidence that Russia was behind what they described as an unprecedented influence campaign in the run up to the 2016 election.
"Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate [former] Secretary [of State] Clinton, and harm her electability," the unclassified Intelligence Community report said in its January 2017 report.
"[Russian President Vladimir] Putin and the Russian government aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible," it added.
The U.S. intelligence community findings were further supported by the report issued this past April by special counsel Robert Mueller.
"The investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome," the Mueller report said, adding that Trump's campaign "expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts."
The most recent pushback came last week, when Trump's former top adviser on Russia warned lawmakers that Moscow's efforts to meddle in the 2016 election were "beyond dispute."
"Based on questions and statements I have heard, 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," Fiona Hill said last Thursday while testifying on Capitol Hill.
"This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves," she added.
But Pompeo, who led the U.S. spy agency before becoming secretary of state, declined to put to rest Tuesday allegations of Ukraine's possible involvement.
"I served as the CIA director for the first year and a half of this administration," he said. "I can assure you there were many countries that were actively engaged in trying to undermine American democracy."
"Whatever nations it is that we have information that so much suggests that there might have been interference or an effort to interfere in our elections, we have an obligation to make sure that the American people get to go to the ballot box, cast their ballots in a way that is unimpacted by these malevolent actors," he said.
Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.