by Errington C. Thompson, MD –
Russia interfered with the 2016 American election, and now Trump is trying to divert the blame to Obama. I find his media tactic appalling.
For over two years, Trump has tried to downplay the importance of Russia’s spying operation. (I discussed the Russian hacking of computers and manipulation of social media in this space at length several months ago.) Now, we have another document—the Mueller Report—that lays out the details of Russian cyberwarfare against us, the American people, our Constitution, and our democracy itself.
Barack Obama was extremely alarmed at the interference from Russia. Unfortunately for us, Obama didn’t want to be seen as a president who was trying to tip the scales toward his preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton. But he wanted to do something big. He wanted to have a show of strength and force that would convince the Russians that their plan had failed. He wanted a bipartisan statement from the White House and Congress.
Seeking Congressional approval and support, he met with the Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress at the White House. There the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) gave Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer a presentation about the Russian cyberattack on our democracy. The information came from the most knowledgeable leaders of the intelligence community: the CIA, the FBI, and Homeland Security.
At the end of the presentation, Pelosi, Ryan, and Schumer all agreed to issue a joint statement exposing and publicizing the Russian interference. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican from Kentucky, refused. No matter how the statement was crafted, McConnell would not sign on. A joint statement without McConnell would be useless. So, no statement was issued.
Mitch McConnell’s disgrace
Was this a failure of President Obama? Was this a failure of Obama’s leadership? No. This was Mitch McConnell providing partisan cover for Trump. It was the best—or the worst—example of party over country that I have ever seen. McConnell told the president that if he called out the Russians for helping the Republican candidate, he, McConnell, would publicly assert that Obama was playing politics with our national security to help Clinton.
Now, three years later, for Trump to blame Obama for McConnell’s refusal to act is the height of hypocrisy. This is like Lucy blaming Charlie Brown for not kicking the football, when it is Lucy who always pulls the ball away at the last minute.
President Obama did everything in his power to develop a national response to the Russian cyberwarfare threat. But Obama was president, not king. He couldn’t put Mitch McConnell in a headlock until McConnell cried uncle. (Although the mental picture is quite funny, unfortunately that’s not how our democracy works.)
Lightning-fast news cycles
The last attempt by the Obama administration to warn the public came on October 7, 2016. A joint statement was issued by Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence. The statement was perfect. It had the right amount of information. It had the right tone. It was designed to make it crystal clear to the public that a foreign adversary was trying to undermine our democracy.
A few hours later, before the report could even gain traction, the famous Access Hollywood tape was released. Remember that? The tape where Trump brags about assaulting women whenever he wants to? As a result, all the impact of the danger of Russian interference was lost, and the media pounced on the Trump tape.
And then, only hours later, WikiLeaks dumped John Podesta’s emails across the Internet (Podesta was Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman). There was no way anyone was going read about Russian interference/hacking/cyberwarfare after all of that.
Now that the Mueller Report is out, I would encourage everyone to actually read the report and not a summary. Trump tried multiple times to obstruct Mueller’s investigation, which as far as I know is illegal. The only reason the investigation was able to move forward was because many of Trump’s aides did not carry out many of Trump’s orders.
If there is anything that is funny or ironic about the collusion charge, is that the Trump team was too incompetent to follow up on Russian leads. Russia tried to help the Trump campaign on multiple occasions, but the Trump team repeatedly dropped the ball … and Russia just proceeded with their plans. As you read the report, you can almost hear Maxwell Smart (from the ’60s sitcom, Get Smart), announce in his clueless manner, “I missed it by this much.”
There are multiple people calling for impeachment hearings. No. No. No. Congress should not start impeachment hearings. Impeachment is putting the cart before the horse. Congress needs to hold fact-finding hearings. America needs to see in great detail the lies that the Trump administration has told the American public on a daily basis. America needs to see how Trump has tried to enrich himself and his family over the interests of the country. America needs to see how Trump tried to obstruct the Mueller investigation. America needs to hear from Mueller. After hearings, America will be more than ready to remove Trump from office. By then, the most efficient way will likely be through the ballot box.
This is our way forward.
Don’t you miss Obama? An honest man who didn’t lie to the American public with every breath? A patriot who put country above party? A true believer in the Constitution, democracy, and the American dream?
I sure do!