Fact Check: Beto O’Rourke Falsely Claims Putin ‘Invaded our Democracy’ in 2016

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) bizarrely claimed during the first 2020 Democrat presidential debate in Miami, Florida, that Russian president Vladimir Putin “attacked and invaded our democracy” during the 2016 election — an assertion at odds with the Mueller Report and made without any supporting evidence.

A partial transcript is as follows: 

LESTER HOLT: We asked voters from across the country to submit their questions for the candidates. Let me read one now. This comes from John in New York, who submitted this question. He asks: “Does the United States have a responsibility to protect in the case of genocide or crimes against humanity. Do we have a responsibility to intervene to protect people from their governments even when atrocities don’t event core American interests?” I’d like to direct that question to Congressman O’Rourke.

BETO O’ROURKE: The answer is yes. But that action should also be undertaken with allies and partners and friends. When the United States presents a united front, we have a much better chance at achieving our foreign policy and preventing the kind of genocide that we saw in Rwanda.

But unfortunately, under this administration, President Trump has alienated our allies and alliances. He’s diminished our standing in the world and he’s made us weaker as a country, less able to confront challenges,  whether it’s Iran, North Korea, or Vladimir Putin and Russia, who attacked and invaded our democracy in 2016, and who President Trump has offered an invitation to do the same. He’s embraced strongmen and dictators at the expense of great democracies. As president, I will make sure we live our values in our foreign policy. I will ensure we strengthen those alliances, partnerships, and friendships. And met any challenge that we face, together. That makes America stronger.

O’Rourke later repeated the claim, omitting the “attacked” language and simply saying Russia carried out an “invasion” of the United States. The conspiratorial remark was just one phrase in a free-wheeling monologue about impeaching Trump, the rule of law, and a painting of George Washington:

One of the most powerful pieces of art in the U.S. Capitol is the Trumbull painting of General George Washington resigning his commission to the Continental Congress at the height of his power submitting to the rule of law and the will of the people. That has withstood the test of time for the last 243 years. If we set another precedent now, that a candidate who invited the participation of a foreign power, a president who sought to obstruct the investigation into the invasion of our democracy—if we allow him to get away with this with complete impunity then we will have set a new standard. And that is that some people because of the position of power and public trust that they hold are above the law, and we cannot allow that to stand.

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