Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the author of “United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles at CNN.
My fellow Americans.
It is, of course, a great relief that the special counsel has cleared my campaign of conspiring with the Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential campaign. I feel considerable vindication about that, since this is what I have been telling you from the beginning.
But I take no joy in the extent to which Russia – a foreign power whose interests are antithetical to those of the United States – has manipulated our sacred election process as laid out so comprehensively in the special counsel’s report.
That interference came in multiple forms.
First, there were the efforts by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency to manipulate social media to promote my campaign and denigrate that of my opponent, Hillary Clinton. Millions of Americans were potentially manipulated by this campaign, which even extended to the organization of actual political rallies here in the United States.
Second, it’s appalling that the Russian military intelligence agency GRU and its unit 26165 hacked into the Democratic National Committee and stole many thousands of emails.
Third, it’s worrisome that these stolen emails would then be given to WikiLeaks – no friend of the United States –and that those emails were selectively released at times when they could most influence the American political process.
Fourth, it’s unacceptable that Russian hacking efforts were also aimed at state-level board of election officials in the United States.
Finally, Russian agents made numerous efforts to target and manipulate officials working on my campaign. I’m not happy about any of that.
The special counsel’s report has cleared me and my team from conspiracy but I have to acknowledge that the report also paints a devastating portrait of the Russian efforts to manipulate our electoral process.
Therefore, I now accept that this was not the possible work of “some guy in his home in New Jersey” as I said during the transition.
I also now reject what I termed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “extremely strong and powerful” denials that Russia had interfered in the election when I stood next to him at the summit in Helsinki last summer.
I realize I was also wrong when standing next to Putin I said, “I think that the United States has been foolish. We’ve all been foolish. We’re all to blame.”
In fact, Putin and his henchmen are the only ones to blame.
This is a disgrace and I am instructing my national security team to prevent any kind of repeat of what happened in 2016 from taking place in our forthcoming 2020 election.
I owe you nothing less than that assurance.
God bless America.