President Donald Trump and his Republican Party are showing a disturbing ambivalence toward Russia's attacks on U.S. democracy.
Imagine that U.S. military leaders spent most of 1941 warning President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Democratic Party of a coming Pearl Harbor attack. Then imagine history’s harsh judgment against FDR’s party had it ignored those concerns, voted against efforts to fortify the Pacific fleet and plotted the firing of generals who were working to expose the looming Japanese threat. Historians would have rightly savaged these politicians as traitors to their country.
Seventy-seven years later, President Donald Trump and his Republican Party are showing a disturbing ambivalence toward Russia’s attacks on U.S. democracy. What exactly are we to make of their disturbing behavior? Even after Trump’s intelligence chiefs handed Republicans incontrovertible evidence of Russian malevolence, Trump dismissed the warnings as a hoax, the GOP House Intelligence Committee chairman secretly plotted against those leading the Russia investigation, and Senate Republicans voted in lock step against a Democratic bill providing a stronger defense against future Russian attacks.
“The X-Files” this is not. The truth about Russia is out there, and it is staring every Republican right in the face.
Trump’s director of national intelligence said warning lights were “blinking red” and compared the threat level from Russia to what we faced leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The president’s secretary of homeland security declared that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plot against America placed “democracy itself . . . in the cross hairs.”
The president’s FBI director, in that same news conference, warned Americans that “the threat is not going away.”
But despite that clear and present danger, Trump still stubbornly sides with an ex-KGB spy over his own law enforcement and intelligence leaders. Just hours after his national security team delivered their harsh warnings in a White House press briefing, Trump bellowed to a Pennsylvania audience that “I had a great meeting with Putin. . . . Now we’re being hindered by the Russian hoax. It’s a hoax, OK?”
No, Mr. President. This is not a hoax, and things are not OK.
The United States has already indicted more than two dozen Russians for their involvement in the conspiracy to undermine U.S. elections. Twelve of those indicted work for the Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU, and allegedly launched their attacks against the United States in the course of “their official capacities,” according to the Justice Department. Those indictments charge that Putin ramped up his attacks on the United States on July 27, 2016 – the day Trump asked Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s “30,000 emails that are missing.”
We don’t know yet if Trump or his associates had any direct involvement in Putin’s conspiracy to interfere in our electoral process. But only a fool would suggest that the Russian leader is an innocent man. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s indictment documents in painstaking detail how Russia’s military spy agency hacked into America’s infrastructure and describes its ongoing efforts to destabilize our country. The forensic evidence proving Putin’s cyberwar against the United States is so comprehensive that neither the president nor his sycophants in Congress deny in good faith that Russia has been coordinating attacks against the United States for years.
So now is the time to ask again why Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani is demanding a speedy end to the damning Russia investigation, when the Whitewater probe of the Clintons lasted much longer. And why did Vice President Mike Pence spend months denying the Trump team’s contacts with Russian officials, only to pivot this past year to calling for a quick end to the investigation?
Will Pence’s future presidential primary challengers remember that Americans would have never uncovered the scope and scale of Putin’s plot against Western democracies if Pence had had his way? Do House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes’ constituents in California understand that their representative is trying to use his chairmanship to destroy the careers of officials overseeing the Russia investigation? Let us hope the answer is yes.
One thing is certain: Republicans can no longer plead ignorance when it comes to Putin. Our country’s national security community has sounded the alarm. Congress has been warned that our democracy is under attack by the Russians. How GOP leaders respond to this threat will determine not only the legacy of their political party but also the resilience of a political system they have carelessly ceded to a buffoon. Unless Republican leaders begin putting country ahead of party, history’s judgment against them all will be harsh.