When Democratic presidential candidates are asked about Congressional impeachment hearings, increasingly the response is, “I want to beat Trump at the ballot box.”
The fact is Russia successfully attacked our election in 2016 and 2018. The redacted Mueller Report clearly establishes the actions by Russia to hijack our democracy through a series of cyberattacks, use of stolen materials, intelligence gathering, propaganda, troll farms, and yes, our election systems. The full report, the underlying evidence, and the investigations Mueller referred to the federal courts, FBI and Department of Homeland Security proves the role of Russia to undermine our democracy in greater detail and it targeted all 50 states. Putin’s effort started in 2014 and continues to this very day because nothing has been done to stop Russia. Nothing.
Now, three articles published in a 24-hour span confirm Russia’s effort to help Trump. In the first story by the New York Times, “FBI Warns of Russian Interference in 2020 Race and Boosts Counterintelligence Operations,” Christopher Wray, director of the FBI, states that the effort by Russia to upend our elections has never stopped and will only increase in the 2020 election, calling it a “significant counterintelligence threat.” In response, Wray has added 40 agents and analysts to the counterintelligence division to work on the Foreign Influence Task Force. The Department of Homeland Security, National Security Agency, and U.S. Cyber Command have also expanded their efforts and made them permanent. Yet, officials complained about a lack of high-level coordination compounded by Trump’s lack of interest about the situation, even as commander-in-chief.
A second article, also by The New York Times, confirms the success by Russia to hack our election “Russian Hackers Were ‘In a Position’ to Alter Florida Voter Rolls, Rubio Confirms.” Yes, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who has backed Trump every step of the way since the 2016 election, and hardly a profile in courage, confirms that Russia breached their election system. Reports of Russia breaching the Florida system have been around for more than two years. But, it is the first public confirmation that was hinted at in the redacted Mueller Report. So which systems in Florida were breached? No one knows because the FBI won’t tell them. Rubio is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and he speaks about victims, plural, but no specific targets were notified to this day and he is unable to name them due to his committee post.
In fact, Rubio and then-Florida Sen. Bill Nelson pleaded before the 2018 election to secure the state’s election system, to no avail. Nelson, who was mocked by Republicans for his warnings and narrowly lost his re-election last November to Republican Rick Scott, not only was right but it also has to be asked: did Russia influence the outcome of his election? Did it benefit Scott, who was the governor at the time and overseeing the election as well? How successful was Russia? How widespread was their effort in Florida? What other states did Russia breach? Did they do the same in 2016? If even one county in Florida was hacked in 2016, then that could have changed the outcome of not only the Florida results but also the entire presidential election. The FBI has scheduled meetings with Scott and current Gov. Ron DeSantis as the investigation into Russia’s attack continues, due to the Mueller Report. We need the answers to those questions because the 2020 election is only 553 days away.
So, you want to beat Trump at the ballot box? The only way to do that is to ensure a free and fair election. And that means doing everything I’ve listed here – because none of it is being done today.
Speaking of the Mueller Report … few Americans are going to read the 448 pages of the redacted report (though you should if you care about preserving our democracy, including the footnotes, or listen to it as there are recorded versions online). As a result, many people rely on social media to provide them with information about it. And now, the Washington Post reports this: “YouTube Recommended a Russian Media Site Thousands of Times for Analysis of Mueller’ Report, a Watchdog Group Says.” Not just any Russian media site, mind you, but the official Russian propaganda site RT, also known as Russia Today – which is, in fact, required to register as a foreign agent in the United States because it peddles so much propaganda. Yet YouTube and its algorithms were successfully manipulated to promote the RT propaganda in the United States about the Mueller Report to recommend it hundreds of thousands of times. So the only information many Americans will have about the report comes from Russian propaganda that sounds quite like Trump’s talking points about it.
So, I’ll say it again: You want to beat Trump at the ballot box? Really?
Neither Trump, his administration, nor social media companies, are doing enough to stop Russia from hacking the 2020 election. They are doing nothing. Some federal agencies want to do more but complain there’s not enough support from the Trump administration. Why? The reason is Trump and the social media companies benefit from Russian interference and to date, there have been no consequences for their actions.
Furthermore, what is stopping Russia from interfering in the Democratic primary? Nothing. Why wouldn’t Russia make mischief and more, possibly handpicking the Democratic nominee, using propaganda and election system hacking? Russia could set the stage for the general election against Trump by promoting a candidate that wouldn’t pose the strongest threat to Trump. Trump not only hasn’t stopped Russia, but he’s also given them a green light to continue. There’s nothing stopping Russia from determining the outcome of the 2020 election. Nothing.
The only way to stop Russia from interfering in the 2020 election is an all-of-the-above strategy that galvanizes public opinion to pressure everyone – Trump, federal, state, and local governments – to secure our elections.
Conducting hearings or winning at the ballot box is a false choice. Holding hearings based on the Mueller Report about Russian interference in our elections, testimony under oath by the FBI, DHS, and other agencies still investigating Russian interference, regulating social media companies with real penalties, passing legislation to protect our elections (like H.R. 1 “For the People Act” that passed the House but the Senate hasn’t taken up), providing resources to federal, state, and local government as well as law enforcement to protect and secure our election systems, and insisting that every election system, every machine, has a paper ballot as back-up is – these comprise the minimum of actions that must be taken.
So, you want to beat Trump at the ballot box? The only way to do that is to ensure a free and fair election. And that means doing everything I’ve listed above – because none of it is being done today.