Tucker Carlson Misrepresents Defense Secretary’s Remarks on U.S. Troops, Ukraine Aid

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Quick Take

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III reportedly told House members that failure to provide more aid for Ukraine could lead to Russia’s invasion of a NATO ally and a direct U.S. military response in accordance with the NATO treaty. A viral post by Tucker Carlson misleadingly omits Austin’s explanation of why U.S. troops might be required.


Full Story

For months, the Biden administration has been telling Congress that Ukraine needs more support in its war with Russia. The administration’s request for more funding for Ukraine has gotten increasingly urgent in recent weeks.

In an Oct. 20 address to the nation, President Joe Biden warned that the failure to stop Russia from conquering Ukraine will embolden Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade countries that are members of NATO – a military alliance formed in 1949 to keep the peace in Europe after World War II.

Biden has said he would not send troops to fight in Ukraine, which is not a NATO member. But Biden said in his address, “if Putin attacks a NATO ally, we will defend every inch of NATO which the treaty requires and calls for.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III brought that message to a closed briefing of House members on Dec. 5. He said that failure to approve more aid for Ukraine could “very likely” lead to the need for U.S. troops to defend NATO allies in Europe against Russia, the Messenger reported.

But a Dec. 7 post by conservative commentator Tucker Carlson on X, the platform formerly called Twitter, which was shared on Instagram on Dec. 8, misleadingly omits Austin’s explanation of why and where American troops would be needed if Ukraine loses the war with Russia.

Carlson’s post, which shows a photo of Austin shaking hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said: “The Biden administration is openly threatening Americans over Ukraine. In a classified briefing in the House yesterday, defense secretary Lloyd Austin informed members that if they don’t appropriate more money for Zelensky, ‘we’ll send your uncles, cousins and sons to fight Russia.’ Pay the oligarchs or we’ll kill your kids.”

Austin was referring to the U.S. commitment to its NATO allies in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, signed in 1949. Carlson made no reference to Article 5 in his tweet, which received more than 100,000 likes, and he did not explain what could happen if Russia invades a NATO country.   

North Atlantic Treaty, Article 5: The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

A day after Austin’s meeting with congressional members, Biden referenced Article 5 in remarks urging Congress to provide more funding for Ukraine.

“If Putin takes Ukraine, he won’t stop there. It’s important to see the long run here. He’s going to keep going. He’s made that pretty clear,” Biden said on Dec. 6. “If Putin … keeps going and then he attacks a NATO ally — well, we’ve committed as a NATO member that we’d defend every inch of NATO territory. Then we’ll have something that we don’t seek and that we don’t have today: American troops fighting Russian troops — American troops fighting Russian troops if he moves into other parts of NATO.”

After Austin’s briefing, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul told the Messenger, “If [Vladimir] Putin takes over Ukraine, he’ll get Moldova, Georgia, then maybe the Baltics.” The Baltic nations — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — are former republics of the Soviet Union and now members of NATO.

“And then the idea that we’ll have to put troops on the ground in Secretary Austin’s word was very likely,” said McCaul, a Texas Republican who has supported aid for Ukraine.

A spokesperson for McCaul told us in an email that Carlson’s post “is very much lacking context.” The spokesperson directed us to another McCaul staffer for more information, but that person didn’t provide further comment.

Some other Republican leaders have also warned of Russia’s possible aggression toward NATO countries if it succeeds in Ukraine.

In a Dec. 10 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said, “My own view is that it’s very much in America’s interest to see Ukraine successful and to provide the weapons that Ukraine needs to defend itself. Anything other than that would be a huge dereliction of our responsibility, I believe, to the world of democracy but also to our own national interest. Because if Putin thinks he can invade his neighbor with impunity and that we’re just going to step back, that we’re going to say, ‘Oh, we’re tired; we’re not going to keep on helping,’ then, guess what? He’s not going to stop. And he’s going to go into a NATO nation that’s going to draw NATO and our troops into war with Russia.”

After Carlson tweeted about Austin’s meeting with Congress, Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffin, citing sources who attended the briefing, tweeted that Carlson’s “characterization” of Austin’s statements was wrong.

“This characterization of Austin’s remarks is 100 percent not true, acc to two sources who were in the briefings. Austin warned that it is not hyperbole to say Putin won’t stop at Ukraine. If he enters NATO territory US troops could be called to fight; cheaper to fund Ukraine now,” Griffin reported.

We wrote about a similar claim on social media when Zelenskyy warned that a Russian invasion of one of the Baltic states could spark a response from the U.S. military.

But we noted that Katherine Yon Ebright, of the Brennan Center for Justice, wrote in a 2022 report that the language of Article 5 is “relatively flexible.” It allows NATO members to determine how to respond to an attack on an ally — which could mean sending equipment, imposing sanctions, or engaging in direct military action, she wrote.


Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.

Sources

Baldor, Lolita C., and Tara Copp. “The Pentagon warns Congress it is running low on money to replace weapons sent to Ukraine.” Associated Press. 2 Oct 2023.

Jennifer Griffin @JenGriffinFNC. “This characterization of Austin’s remarks is 100 percent not true, acc to two sources who were in the briefings. Austin warned that it is not hyperbole to say Putin won’t stop at Ukraine. If he enters NATO territory US troops could be called to fight; cheaper to fund Ukraine now.” X. 7 Dec 2023.

Mascaro, Lisa and Colleen Long. “Biden will ask Congress for $13B to support Ukraine, $12B for disaster fund, an AP source says.” Associated Press. 10 Aug 2023.

McPherson, Lindsey. “Austin Warns Congress Failing to Pass Ukraine Aid ‘Very Likely’ Leads to US Troops on the Ground in Europe.” 5 Dec 2023.

Meet the Press. Interview with Sen. Mitt Romney. NBC. 10 Dec 2023.

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NATO. The North Atlantic Treaty. Nato.int. 4 Apr 1949. Updated 19 Oct 2023.

Solender, Andrew. “Top House Republicans try to stem the GOP’s anti-Ukraine tide.” Axios. 5 Dec 2023.

Spencer, Saranac Hall. “Social Media Posts Misrepresent Zelenskyy’s Remarks on U.S. Military Involvement.” FactCheck.org. 2 Mar 2023.

Spokesperson for House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul. Email to FactCheck.org. 8 Dec 2023.

U.S. Department of State. Fact sheet: “The Ironclad U.S. Commitment to NATO.” 29 Nov 2021.

U.S. Department of State. Office of the Historian. “Milestones in the History of U.S. Foreign Relations.” Accessed 12 Dec 2023.

White House. “Remarks by President Biden on the Request to Congress for Additional Funding to Support Ukraine.” 28 Apr 2022.

White House. “Remarks by President Biden on the United States’ Response to Hamas’s Terrorist Attacks Against Israel and Russia’s Ongoing Brutal War Against Ukraine.” 20 Oct 2023.

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Yon Ebright, Katherine. Brennan Center for Justice. “NATO’s Article 5 Collective Defense Obligations, Explained.” Updated 15 Nov 2022.

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