Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, on Sunday accused former Democratic congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of echoing Kremlin talking points after clips of her interview with Fox News were broadcast on Russian state TV.
"Tulsi Gabbard is parroting false Russian propaganda. Her treasonous lies may well cost lives," Romney tweeted on Sunday.
Romney did not specify which remarks by Gabbard he meant, but his tweet came after she told Fox News host Tucker Carlson in an interview that she was "deeply concerned" about claims of bioweapons in Ukraine. In a video posted to Twitter on Sunday, the former Hawaii congresswoman claimed there were more than 25 "US-funded biolabs in Ukraine which if breached would release & spread deadly pathogens."
Carlson and other conservatives have spread a conspiracy theory that the Biden administration was funding biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine but there is no evidence to support the claims, The New York Times reported last week. The U.S. has provided funding to several organizations in Ukraine to prevent the production of biological weapons, according to the report.
The Daily Beast's Julia Davis posted a screenshot on Twitter showing that clips from Gabbard's interview with Carlson were also replayed on Russian state TV to help "perpetuate the myth of dangerous 'bio-weapons' in Ukraine." The Kremlin has urged Russian state media to "use as much" clips of Carlson's criticism of the United States' foreign policy and NATO as possible, according to a leaked memo obtained by Mother Jones' David Corn.
Gabbard lashed out at Romney in a lengthy Twitter thread, arguing that "evidence of the existence of such biolabs, their vulnerability, and thus the need to take immediate action to secure them is beyond dispute."
"Senator Romney, please provide evidence that what I said is untrue and treasonous," she tweeted. "If you cannot, you should do the honorable thing: apologize and resign from the Senate."
Gabbard cited last week's testimony by Victoria Nuland, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, who told a Senate committee that "Ukraine has biological research facilities" that the administration is "quite concerned Russian forces may be seeking to gain control of."
The State Department told the Times that Nuland was referring to Ukrainian diagnostic and biodefense labs that aim to counter biological threats in the country, not biological weapons research or production facilities. Nuland told the Senate that the State Department is working with the Ukrainians to "prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces."
Gabbard also cited a Pentagon fact sheet confirming the existence of "such biolabs." But the Defense Department said last week that there are five biological research labs in Kyiv that focus on diagnostics, therapeutics, treatments, prevention and vaccines, not on military research or biological weapons, which are banned by the Biological Weapons Convention.
"There are no DOD bio-weapon labs in Ukraine or anywhere else in the world," a Pentagon official told reporters.
Gabbard cited other instances of U.S. officials confirming the existence of biolabs in Ukraine as Russia pushes a propaganda campaign accusing Ukraine of seeking to use biological weapons, a claim that has also been amplified by Chinese government media.
Russia has repeatedly accused its foes of developing biological weapons. CIA Director William Burns warned the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday that Russia could be using the conspiracy theory to lay the groundwork for a potential biological weapons attack it might then seek to blame on the U.S. or Ukraine.
"This is something, as all of you know very well, is very much a part of Russia's playbook," Burns said. "They've used these weapons against their own citizens, they've at least encouraged the use in Syria and elsewhere, so it's something we take very seriously."
Gabbard and Carlson are not the only prominent figures who have made remarks echoing Russian propaganda. Former President Donald Trump has repeatedly echoed Russian propaganda talking points, praised Russian President Vladimir Putin as "savvy" after he launched the invasion and avoided several opportunities to criticize Putin in a recent Fox News interview. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a "thug" and said the Ukrainian government is "incredibly evil" because it has been "pushing woke ideologies." Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., blamed President Biden for the Ukrainian invasion and recently attended a white nationalist conference where the audience shouted pro-Putin chants.
Former Republican congressman Joe Walsh, now a podcast host and Trump critic, praised Romney for calling out Gabbard but questioned why he did not call out those in his own party.
Walsh shared Romney's tweet accusing Gabbard of parroting Russian propaganda, writing, "so had Donald Trump. So has Madison Cawthorn. So has Marjorie Taylor Greene. So has Tucker Carlson. And there are many other Republicans/conservatives as well. Call them out Mitt."
Fox News host Mark Levin, a major Trump supporter, on Sunday also called out pro-Putin Republicans and "so-called America First-ers" for pushing a "phony story about American biotech centers [in Ukraine] to develop weapons."
"Of course, the Putin wing of the Republican Party and the Putin wing of the media and the Putin wing of the Democrat Party, they're all over it," Levin said. "No, those are old Soviet locations that the United States … has been trying to deal with. We're not developing biochemical weapons in Ukraine. … What is it about these so-called America First-ers in the end who are really America Last-ers if you think about it?"
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