The Perverse Serendipity Of The Republican Congressional Russian Blame Game
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians and three Russian companies for their grassroots election skullduggery is a rare opportunity — not that many people will avail themselves of it — to reflect on the manifold failures to safeguard the 2016 presidential election. Much of the responsibility for that goes to the Obama administration and news media, but most of the blame rests squarely with the congressional Republican leadership, the very cowards who keep enabling Vladimir Putin’s favorite dummy — Donald Trump — by blaming everyone but the president in weaponizing the scandal for rank partisan gain.
There is a perverse serendipity to the leadership’s blame game since it was Mitch McConnell, chief among the many hyper-partisan cohorts, who repeatedly rebuffed top Obama officials who wanted to show a united public front against Russia’s cybersabotage of the election once that was established beyond a doubt over the summer of 2016. (At that point, the possibility of Trump campaign collusion was a sideshow.)
History will judge the McConnells harshly, perhaps not unlike Hitler appeasers in the late 1930s, and while their obdurate behavior verges on the traitorous now, it clearly was then.
In April 2016, U.S. intelligence intercepted the first communications among Russians who discussed aggressively trying to influence the election by sabotaging Hillary Clinton. By early June, the CIA had confirmed the veracity of the intercepts, and on July 26 the White House was informed that intelligence agencies had “high confidence” that Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails.
In late August, CIA Director John Brennan began briefing the so-called Gang of Eight, the highest ranking four Republicans and four Democrats on congressional intelligence committees on the unprecedented Russian incursion.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell was briefed on August 25, but took no action even after two Democrats, Diane Feinstein and Adam Schiff, released a statement on September 22 saying that Russia was “making a serious and concerted effort” to influence the election.
In late September, the Obama administration asked McConnell to warn state election officials of possible attempts to penetrate their computer systems by Russian hackers. (It turned out voter rolls in 21 states were breeched.) McConnell, questioning the veracity of the intelligence, refused to consider any White House effort to challenge Russia publicly as anything but an act of partisan politics.
McConnell repeated his skepticism publicly on October 7 after the White House publicly accused Russia of engaging in a massive hacking campaign.
By then, with the election a month away, it was too late for any kind of bipartisan front against the greatest threat to American democracy since the Soviet Union stole atomic bomb secrets over 70 years ago.
Way too late. Or as then-Vice President Biden put it, “the die had been cast . . . this was all about the political play.”
Fast forward to Tuesday when Trump, still in full foam over the Mueller indictment, declared in a tweet that Obama didn’t go far enough to resist Russian election interference because he thought Clinton would win and didn’t want to “rock the boat.”
As he sometime can be, Trump was right — to a point.
He was correct that the indictment should should result in a reexamination of why Obama and his aides failed to do enough, but that would inevitably lead back to why McConnell and Trump’s congressional sycophancy answered the White House’s call to arms by sitting on their hands because they feared it would make Trump’s seemingly long-shot chances even longer.
Trump’s tweet, like his obscene explosion over the weekend blaming the Parkland, Florida school massacre on the FBI because “they are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion,” was greeted by Republicans with silence leavened with some applause.
And so the Republicans remain united — against pushing back against Russia when it might have mattered in the run-up to the election and for pushing back against everyone but Russia and Putin’s dummy in the wake of Mueller’s indictment.
Oh, and one more thing.
If Russian meddling occurs in the run-ups to the November election and the mid-term 2018 election, which from what we now know is likely, will McConnell come out of his cave and sound the warning?