A new Republican-led Intelligence Committee report confirms McConnell helped block alerting the public to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. We will never know for sure but had McConnell and others reacted differently; there may never have been a now-impeached President Trump. The timing of the report seems particularly stinging since McConnell has led efforts to acquit Trump on charges of attempting to meddle in the upcoming 2020 elections by withholding aid to Ukraine.
First, a short review: It was in August 2016 that President Obama received the briefing on Vladimir Putin’s election meddling for Trump. Here’s how he responded, from Vox in February 2018:
“In August 2016, Obama received a briefing that said Vladimir Putin was directly involved in a campaign to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Trump win the election. He had his aides assess the safety of the American voting system, he had the head of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson work with states to shore up security, and he had John Brennan contact the head of the Russia security agency.
But Obama did not make the information public, as Democrats on the Hill wanted. Republicans argued it should stay under wraps. According to then-Vice President Joe Biden, Mitch McConnell questioned the findings themselves, and others argued it would only help Russians to release it, or make it look like the Obama administration was stepping into the election to directly oppose Donald Trump.”
Today, the New York Times reports on the new Senate report released on Thursday, February 6, 2020. Now we can see that McConnell responded to the 2016 briefing with skepticism rather than concern about the impact on the election.
“Republican congressional leaders’ refusal to publicly acknowledge Russian election interference in 2016 contributed to a watered-down response by the Obama administration in the midst of the presidential campaign, a Senate report released Thursday found.
Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, reacted skeptically after receiving an intelligence briefing in September 2016 about the Russian interference, a former Obama administration official said in the report. “You security people should be careful that you’re not getting used,” Mr. McConnell told Lisa Monaco, the White House homeland security adviser under President Barack Obama, at the time, according to the report.”
Today, Senator McConnell continues to deny that his reaction played a part in preventing Obama from alerting the public. He points to a bipartisan letter sent out in September 2016. However, if you read the letter, it points to “malefactors that are seeking to use cyberattacks to disrupt the administration of our elections.” The letter never mentions Russia or efforts to help Trump but suggests state localities should work to protect their election systems from attacks.
Although McConnell’s skepticism certainly contributed, we learn that Obama officials also played a part in preventing a bipartisan public warning about Russia. Unaware of the full extent of what was about to happen, they worried that a public warning could backfire, serving Putin’s interests in helping Trump.
“The committee said that the Obama administration was worried that its warnings to Russia could potentially undermine voters’ confidence in the election, which would itself help the Russian effort. The government was also hampered by what it did not know, including the full extent of the Russian ability to manipulate election systems,” states the Times.
This new information coincides with remarks by Rep. Adam Schiff years ago when he questioned if Obama had done enough to prevent Russian meddling in the 2016 election. On CNN in February 2018, Schiff said, “Obama’s team’s response to Russian involvement in the election was not ‘sufficient,’ adding that they ‘were very wary to be seen as putting their hand on the scale of the election.'”
The new Times report indicates that President Obama did take additional steps to warn Putin not to interfere in the election, sending a direct note threatening economic consequences. However, as we know, that didn’t stop Putin, and President Trump has yet to acknowledge Putin’s meddling efforts may have handed him the White House. Instead, Trump’s administration and Senator McConnell worked to encourage Russia, lifting sanctions on Russian oligarchs.
Now, as former Vice President Biden seeks the White House in 2020, McConnell’s impact on our election integrity is once more a central concern. Joe Biden has direct knowledge of McConnell’s handiwork and it’s easy to see this topic coming up during the Biden campaign.
Meanwhile, the Kentucky Senator seems ready to ensure 2020 will be no different than 2016, helping to acquit Trump, while continuing to downplay the impact of any foreign influence on our elections. It’s laughable to think that this Senate report will encourage McConnell to become more proactive in fighting ongoing election interference problems.
However, the difference from 2016 is that today we all know what to expect. Stay united, avoid the trolls, and focus on making a Democrat the next President. To do so, we’ll need overwhelming numbers of voters to counter election meddling, gerrymandering, and overt voter suppression tactics. Not to mention, we have an emboldened President Trump, who just got the green-light from Republicans to sabotage our elections.
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