Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed concerns from President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff that he didn’t respond properly to suspected Russian interference in the 2016 election, saying, “I’m perfectly comfortable with the steps that were taken back then.”
The Kentucky Republican was responding to Denis McDonough, who on Sunday defended the Obama administration’s response to suspected Russian interference in the 2016 election – and called McConnell’s response a “dramatically watered down” joint statement on election security in September 2016.
“This is the same old thing they’ve been saying for weeks,” McConnell said during his weekly news conference with reporters Tuesday. “I issued a statement on that a couple weeks ago and I’d be happy to send it to you again.”
McDonough recently told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that McConnell downgraded the language of the letter “asking the states to work with us” on election security, adding that members of Congress had a “stunning lack of urgency” over the matter.
“The lack of urgency that we saw from the Republican leadership in 2016 we continue to see to this day today. It’s beyond time for Congress to work with the administration, to work with the states, to ensure that our electoral systems are ready to go,” McDonough said. “This is not a game.”
McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said in response that he would “let McDonough respond to McDonough” and pointed to an op-ed McDonough wrote last year that referenced the statement.
McDonough wrote: “This joint, bipartisan statement was thought by the White House to be particularly important since state and local authorities had been reluctant to accept the assistance being offered by the Department of Homeland Security, and we believed a bipartisan statement would help persu ade them to put aside their concerns and work with the federal government to protect our election infrastructure.”
“This bipartisan outreach was harder and more time-consuming than it needed to be, but it was ultimately successful, with a statement released by the four congressional leaders on September 29,” he continued. “By Election Day, 33 states and 36 counties and cities had used Homeland Security tools to scan or strengthen their systems.”
McDonough isn’t the only Obama administration official to blame McConnell for inaction on the issue.
Former Vice President Joe Biden said in January that McConnell was skeptical, saying that the Senate Republican “wanted no part of having a bipartisan commitment that we would say, essentially, ‘Russia’s doing this, stop.’”
CNN’s Eli Watkins and Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.