Editor’s Note: Fred Wertheimer is the founder and president of Democracy 21, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that seeks to promote government accountability and integrity. Former Ambassador Norman L. Eisen, a CNN contributor, is a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution and served as President Obama’s “Ethics Czar” from 2009-11. The opinions expressed in this commentary are theirs.
President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell each took an oath of office that included solemnly swearing to defend the Constitution of the United States.
It’s long past time for Trump, Ryan and McConnell to stop ignoring the oaths they swore and to start protecting the country against the open attack by Vladimir Putin and his cronies on our constitutional system of government.
There can no longer be any doubt about the nature of that assault and the identity of the assailants, nor about future assaults. On February 13, the nation’s intelligence chiefs, in testimony before the Senate, all agreed that Russia is planning to intervene in the 2018 midterm congressional elections. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, a former Republican US senator, testified there should be no doubt that Russia views its efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential campaign as successful.
An indictment obtained on February 16 by special counsel Robert Mueller against three Russian entities and 13 Russian individuals documented that Russia engaged in illegal “information warfare” against our country. After the indictment, President Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster said at an international security conference that the evidence Russia acted to influence the 2016 US election is “now incontrovertible,” and he is right.
Indeed, the basic contours of the attack have been clear for some time. More than a year ago, on January 6, 2017, the heads of our intelligence agencies issued a report that concluded “with high confidence” that Russia had interfered with the 2016 presidential election in a campaign ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The report found that Russia’s goals included undermining “public faith in the US democratic process,” and harming Hillary Clinton’s “electability and potential presidency.”
In September 2017, the Department of Homeland Security notified 21 states that efforts were made by “Russian government cyberactors” to hack their elections systems in the 2016 presidential election. In February of this year, a US official responsible for protecting state election systems against hacking stated that the Russians “successfully penetrated the voter registration rolls of several US states prior to the 2016 presidential election.”
Thus, well before the events of last week, it was clear that Russia intervened in the 2016 presidential election and that our future election results could be subject to further foreign manipulation.
Despite all this, there is no evidence President Trump has taken any meaningful steps to protect the country from future sabotage of our elections by Russia or any other foreign adversary.
In fact, the main publicly known action Trump has taken is to protect Russia by refusing to implement new sanctions enacted by Congress to deter future Russian intervention. Congress overwhelmingly passed the new sanctions last year, but conveniently left Trump with an escape clause from imposing the sanctions, which Trump has taken.
That is a shocking abdication of presidential duty, for which Trump should be excoriated, and which he must remedy.
(Trump administration officials claim they have warned Putin about meddling in our elections but point to no specific actions.After the Mueller indictment, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a Justice Department task force to examine how to fight global cyberthreats. Trump has remained silent on taking any action against Russian interference.)
Less noticed is that Trump’s dereliction of duty has been matched by his party’s leaders in the House and the Senate. In the case of Ryan, there are important bipartisan bills pending in the House.
The Honest Ads Act (H.R. 4077) would close the disclosure loopholes for campaign-related ads being run by foreign interests on the internet and thereby make it harder for foreign social media campaigns to go unnoticed, the Deter Act (H.R.4884) would provide strong new sanctions for any foreign interest interfering in our elections, and the PAPER Act (H.R.3751) would provide federal assistance and financial support for states to modernize the security and protect the integrity of their election systems.
Yet Ryan has done nothing to advance these essential bills and has provided no indication he is prepared to move legislation to directly respond to the Russian threat.
The speaker has, moreover, supported the rogue activities of Rep. Devin Nunes, the embattled chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Nunes’ has repeatedly attempted to protect President Trump rather than implement the mandate of his committee to investigate Russian intervention in our elections. Nunes’ efforts include repeated attacks on the Justice Department and FBI to divert attention from the Russia investigation and lying to the American people to cover up his secret work with the White House to shield Trump.
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Majority Leader McConnell has followed the same path in the Senate that Ryan has taken in the House. He has blocked similar bipartisan bills to directly address the Russian intervention threat. These include Senate versions of the Honest Ads Act (S.1989) and the Deter Act (S.2313) as well as the Secure Elections Act (S.2261), which would provide grants to states and establish an advisory panel of independent experts to share information about election cybersecurity incidents, threats and vulnerabilities.
Trump, Ryan and McConnell have failed to act to protect our national security, the integrity of our democracy and the interests of the American people. They have not taken steps to prevent future cyberattacks on our elections by Russia or other foreign adversaries.
The three highest officeholders in our government are not carrying out their sworn oaths to protect our constitutional system from enemy attacks. This disgraceful performance by Trump, Ryan and McConnell must not be allowed to stand.
The American people must demand protection for our country from future “information warfare” conducted by Russia to sabotage our elections, undermine our democracy and help elect a US president of Putin’s choosing.