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Fact Checking Claims that Lloyd Austin ‘Threatened’ to Send American Troops to Fight Russia
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Fact Checking Claims that Lloyd Austin ‘Threatened’ to Send American Troops to Fight Russia

Tucker Carlson mischaracterized Austin’s comments during a classified briefing.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a virtual Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG) meeting at the Pentagon on November 22, 2023, in Arlington, Virginia (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

As the Biden administration prepares to host Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Washington this week, and as legislative negotiations over additional Ukraine aid stall, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has supposedly traded his carrot for a stick in his attempts to persuade House Republicans to get on board the funding train—at least according to Tucker Carlson.

In a tweet that garnered more than 100,000 likes and 45,000 retweets, Carlson claimed that Austin had threatened members of Congress during a classified briefing, telling them that the Biden administration would put American boots on the ground to fight Russia if they didn’t approve additional Ukraine funding.

“This is about the war in Ukraine, what they’re trying to drag us into,” Donald Trump Jr. said in a video posted on Facebook about Carlson’s reporting. “Tucker Carlson confirms that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin threatened to send your uncles, cousins, and sons to fight Russia unless more money is sent to Zelensky.”

A source familiar with the briefing told The Dispatch Fact Check that Carlson’s depiction was inaccurate and that Austin made no such threat. Instead, Austin warned that failing to back Ukraine could lead to direct U.S. involvement elsewhere in Europe in the future. Last week, The Messenger reported that during the briefing, Austin warned Congress about the likelihood of further Russian aggression should it be victorious in Ukraine, including instigating territorial disputes in neighboring NATO member states. “If Putin takes over Ukraine, he’ll get Moldova, Georgia, then maybe the Baltics,” House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul told The Messenger. “And then the idea that we’ll have to put troops on the ground, in Austin’s word, was very likely.” 

The Biden administration has continued to pressure congressional Republicans to provide additional funding to Ukraine. Nevertheless, a number of Republican representatives—including House Speaker Mike Johnson—told The Messenger that the briefing had been unconvincing and would do little to change the minds of hesitant Republican members.

A source familiar with the briefing told The Dispatch Fact Check on the condition of anonymity that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was the sole member to stay behind after the session ended, after which she berated the briefing team. Austin purportedly responded by explaining how, if the U.S. does not continue its support for Ukraine, Russia may go after a NATO ally in the future, drawing the U.S. directly into the conflict and potentially leading to American soldiers on the ground.

Austin’s argument is not unique—preventing further escalation in the region is a driving element of many calls for continued U.S. support. “If the U.S. were to stop its funding and support, it would drastically reduce the combat effectiveness of Ukraine and probably lead to a collapse of the frontlines in the favor of Russia,” Luke Coffey, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute told The Dispatch Fact Check. “Before we know it, hundreds of thousands of Russian troops that are now hundreds of miles away from NATO’s borders, with the Ukrainian army standing between, will now be at NATO’s front door with nothing in their way. This would require more U.S. troops and funding to keep NATO safe. It is a far better deal to the American taxpayer to arm Ukraine now instead of potentially deploying more US troops to Europe in the future.”

Greene’s office and the Pentagon did not respond to requests for comment.

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Alex Demas is a fact checker at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in England as a financial journalist and earned his MA in Political Economy at King's College London. When not heroically combating misinformation online, Alex can be found mixing cocktails, watching his beloved soccer team Aston Villa lose a match, or attempting to pet stray cats.