The Russian Connection: The Real Problem

While the question of whether Donald Trump and company conspired with the Russians to influence the 2016 election is serious, it is not the most pressing problem. The fact that all the intelligence agencies and the FBI agree that Russian interference in our elections is continuing. The severity of the issue became even more evident during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Tuesday:

Russia is using fake accounts on social media — many of them bots — to spread disinformation, the officials said. European elections are being targeted, too, and the attacks were not likely to end this year, they warned.

“We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokespeople and other means of influence to try to exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States,” Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee at its annual hearing on worldwide threats.

Mr. Coats and the other intelligence chiefs laid out a pair of central challenges for the United States: contending with the flow of Russian misinformation and shoring up the defenses of electoral systems, which are run by individual states and were seen as highly vulnerable in 2016.

“There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” said Mr. Coats, testifying alongside Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director; Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director; and other leading intelligence officials. [..]

Mr. Coats called Moscow’s meddling “pervasive.”

“The Russians have a strategy that goes well beyond what is happening in the United States,” he said. “While they have historically tried to do these types of things, clearly in 2016 they upped their game. They took advantage, a sophisticated advantage of social media. They are doing that not only in the United States but doing it throughout Europe and perhaps elsewhere.”

So why aren’t the congress and the White House more doing more to make our elections process secure from tampering? Efven more important why aren’t they taking stronger actions to counter and stop the Russian interference? One word: Trump. During the hearing, Sen. Angus King (I-ME) expressed his concern about Trump’s denial that Russian interference even exists:

“My problem is, I talk to people in Maine who say, ‘The whole thing is a witch hunt and it’s a hoax because the president told me,'” King said, speaking at Tuesday’s hearing where intelligence leaders testified about national security threats.

“We cannot confront this threat, which is a serious one, with a whole-of-government response when the leader of the government continues to deny that it exists,” he continued.

The intelligence community determined last year that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, while multiple ongoing investigations are looking into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win. Trump has repeatedly denied the allegations, and tweeted last month that the “Russian Collusion Hoax is dead.”

King pleaded with the agency heads to try to get Trump to separate the issue of his campaign’s collusion and election meddling. King also expressed his concern that there has been no effort to deter Russia. Last month the Trump administration refused to implement the new sanctions on Russia over the meddling because the threat of sanctions is enough of a deterrent.

Former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul told MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell that he had been trying to raise the alarm about Russian attempts to undermine American democracy for years. Now, despite universal agreement among the intelligence community, still nothing is being done because of Trump’s fragile ego.

“You know, the only explanation I have is that the president thinks that by admitting the diagnostics about what Russia is doing, it will undermine the legitimacy of his election back in 2016,” McFaul said. “Because of that tension, he refuses to treat this as a national security threat. It’s not a Republican or Democratic threat, it’s a national security threat, and I think it is because of that he refuses to talk about it in a serious way.”

Host of MSNBC’s “The Beat” Ari Melber spoke with Ned Price, former CIA intelligence officer and National Security Council spokesperson, who stated that Trump’s silence was a “green light” to the Russians.

“Well absolutely, Ari. We have heard that President Trump has personally himself done absolutely nothing to help our national security establishment and infrastructure stop the next round of Russian meddling — that should be hugely troubling to all of us,” Price warned.

“We learned not too long ago that the president has not convened his National Security Council on this subject, but in addition to an absence of things, we also have to evaluate what he has done,” Price continued.

“He’s spilled secrets in the Oval Office to the Russians, he has savored his time with Vladimir Putin, he has refused to implement sanctions,” Price listed.

“So all of these, both what he has done and has not done, is a clear signal to Moscow, a clear signal that they have the green light to continue,” the ex-spy concluded.

As Charlie Pierce put it “the only people in government who care about Russian election meddling are the spies.”