The Trump presidency has been an endless, overwhelming swirl of scandal. Whether it’s using the presidency to promote his businesses, firing former FBI Director James Comey, providing support and comfort to neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia or pardoning a sheriff held in contempt of court, President Donald Trump has invited fresh controversy every week.
Yet a larger scandal lingers, threatening to do far more lasting damage to the fabric of this country. Separate from the Trump campaign’s contacts with representatives of the Russian government, the 17 agencies of our intelligence community unanimously concluded the Russian government hacked the 2016 election. They will almost certainly be back for more in the 2018 midterms.
No one is doing anything about it. There have been no presidential statements, no administration plans and too few Congressional hearings. November 2018 will come quickly, and, at present, Americans are not certain that their vote will be free of Russian interference.
Trump doesn’t seem to care about Russian meddling. He still can’t bring himself to agree with the American intelligence community’s unanimous report on Russia’s 2016 hack. Though he says he asked Russian President Vladimir Putin about election hacking in July, Putin denied it. Trump let it drop.
It fits an odd pattern of behavior that plays against type for this president. Trump has made a career out of aggressively attacking foes, but can’t bring himself to say a harsh word about Putin, who leads a country that 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney called America’s greatest geopolitical adversary. On the campaign trail, Trump said he admired the Russian autocrat as a good leader. As president, Trump actually thanked Putin for kicking out over 750 U.S. embassy staff from Moscow.
It should be outrageous to all Americans, regardless of political persuasion, that Trump refuses to take action on Russian hacking. We’re left wondering if Trump would welcome more Russian interference in 2018. After all, in 2016, he boldly encouraged Moscow to publish the 30,000 personal emails Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is alleged to have wiped from her hard drive. Why change now?
The Republican-controlled Congress has barely done better. To its credit, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate and Speaker Paul Ryan’s House passed a bipartisan bill of new Russia sanctions and restricted Trump’s ability to lift other Russian sanctions without Congressional approval. The president signed it, reluctantly.
However, this bill does little to deter future Russian election tampering. If anything, it may encourage the Kremlin to meddle again to help congressional candidates that will toe Trump’s soft line on Russia.
It’s time for Congress to lead. America needs a national conversation about future Russian interference, and a congressional plan to protect American democracy in 2018 and beyond.
It falls to a handful of Republicans to protect American democracy. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C. – members of the Judiciary Committee who’ve introduced legislation that would protect special counsel Robert Mueller from Trump’s threats to fire him – are a good place to start. They might receive backing from anti-Trump conservative Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Ben Sasse, R-Neb., as well as Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a powerful voice on the Foreign Relations Committee.
These senators should advocate for open hearings that compel testimony from the administration and outside experts that forms the basis of legislation with two goals: Deterring Russian hacking and protecting critical campaign and Election Day infrastructure, like party databases and voting machines.
It’s easier to imagine this package passing the Senate, whose members are more insulated from Trump’s firebrand appeals to his rabid base. The real challenge will be compelling Ryan, whose calculated silence often enables Trump’s worst impulses, to whip votes in the House. That’s why it’s important to raise public pressure on Ryan, so he understands that there will be a political cost for inaction on Russian hacking.
Our ability to freely choose our elected representatives is the most sacred thing we have as American citizens. Our democratic institutions remain threatened by both a foreign power and by a president who seems disinterested in taking action to stop it. America must depend on the Republican-led Congress to put country over party.