BY DAN DASKAL
The stability of the U.S. electoral system, based in the Constitution and over two centuries of legal precedent, is under attack. U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election, in favor of then-candidate Donald Trump and have warned of its ongoing efforts to influence the upcoming midterm elections. These actions pose a considerable threat to the United States’ democratic ideals, a threat that the government does not appear to be properly addressing.
The investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives have cast a shadow over the Trump administration since its onset. The partisan nature of the investigations in the House and Senate Intelligence Committees results in the constant risk that they will devolve into shows of political theatre, as has recently been the case in the House. As part of their efforts to sway public opinion, Republican and Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee have released dueling memos regarding the FBI’s conduct in its surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. In accordance with today’s hyper-partisan politics, many in the GOP have sought to discredit investigators’ efforts in an attempt to bolster President Trump’s image, along with that of the Republican Party as a whole. This was likely a contributing factor in the House Intelligence Committee’s decision to end its investigation on Mar. 12, 2018. As stated by the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, “by ending its oversight role in the only authorized investigation in the House, the Majority has placed the interests of protecting the President over protecting the country, and history will judge its actions harshly.”
Thus far, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s nonpartisan investigation has proven to be the most effective in uncovering the scope of Russian intervention. Most recently, Mueller’s probe resulted in the indictment of 13 Russians and three companies for their concerted effort to support the Trump campaign and undermine the 2016 election. Mueller has also charged several former Trump campaign advisers, including former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, as well as President Trump’s first National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn. While President Trump himself has not been accused of any personal wrongdoing, nor has Mueller released concrete evidence detailing collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, his investigation has infuriated the President, leading him to refer to the investigation as “the single greatest Witch Hunt in American history.” Consequently, President Trump almost put Mueller’s investigation to rest soon after its commencement, as he reportedly attempted to fire Mueller last June, only electing to change course after White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II threatened to resign over the matter. President Trump’s opposition to investigating election interference comes as little surprise, as he has long disregarded the assessment of U.S. intelligence officials that Russian operatives meddled in the 2016 election. In a 2016 interview with Time Magazine, Trump stated, “I don’t believe [Russia] interfered…I believe that it could have been Russia and it could have been any one of many other people. Sources or even individuals.”
On Dec. 29, 2016, in response to Russia’s election meddling, the Obama Administration ejected 35 suspected Russian intelligence operatives posing as diplomats and foreign officials and imposed sanctions on Russia’s intelligence services. Nevertheless, this appears to have been largely insufficient in countering Russia’s efforts, as leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies have warned that Russia will continue to interfere in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections. According to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, “there should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.” Over a year after President Obama’s efforts to contain Russian meddling, little has been done by the Trump administration to protect the United States from this ongoing threat. U.S. Cyber Command Chief Adm. Michael Rogers, who serves as director of the National Security Agency, recently testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that he has neither received specific instructions from the Trump administration to thwart Russian cyberattacks on the upcoming election nor has he been granted new authorities to do so.
Over the course of his presidency, Trump has strived to minimize the political discourse surrounding Russia’s election interference in an attempt to quash any claims of his illegitimacy. He wants there to be no doubt that he was rightfully elected as president and is willing to eschew facts to do so. In this manner, his dismissal of Russian interference is much akin to his unsubstantiated claim that he only lost the popular vote as a result of millions of illegal voters. Nonetheless, if President Trump wishes to curtail the public’s angst concerning Russia’s election meddling, his best course of action would be to actively prevent it from continuing. The public will be far less likely to fear potential collusion if they witness President Trump acknowledge the gravity of the Russian intervention and take decisive action to eliminate it.