In Defying the Odds, we discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign. The update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.
Jane Mayer at The New Yorker:
As the intelligence community grew increasingly convinced that Russia had engaged in cyber sabotage, Obama struggled to get bipartisan support from the top four congressional leaders: McConnell; Paul Ryan, then the Republican Speaker of the House; Nancy Pelosi, then the ranking Democrat in the House; and Harry Reid, then the Senate Minority Leader. Finally, after Labor Day, Obama convened an Oval Office meeting during which he urged the four leaders to put out a joint statement alerting election officials across the country to the extraordinary foreign threat. According to Denis McDonough, Obama’s former chief of staff, Ryan, Pelosi, and Reid agreed to work together, but “McConnell said nothing.” The former official said, “It took weeks to get the letter.”
A previously unseen log of the private correspondence among the four leaders’ staffs shows that McConnell edited the draft, refusing to accept any of the others’ proposed changes. He was dead set against designating U.S. voting systems as “critical infrastructure” or urging election officials to seek assistance from the Department of Homeland Security. Instead, he insisted on leaving election security entirely to non-federal officials. The final statement was so muddled that a Reid aide argued, “FWIW, I’d rather do no letter at all.” Another Reid aide replied, “Me, too. But we apparently have no choice.” Finally, on September 28th, the others signed off on the McConnell draft. Instead of identifying Russia, or a foreign threat, it merely mentioned “malefactors” seeking to “disrupt the administration of our elections.” It was so indecipherable that neither the public nor election officials learned until well after the election that Russia had targeted voting systems in all fifty states. Reid told me, “The letter was nothing like what Obama wanted. It was very, very weak.”
“I don’t know for sure why he did it,” Rice said. “But my guess, particularly with the benefit of hindsight, is that he thought” calling out Russia “would be detrimental to Trump—so he delayed and deflected. It’s disgraceful.” Rice noted that after the election McConnell continued to resist numerous bipartisan calls to safeguard election security. Only after critics began mocking him as Moscow Mitch did he finally agree, last September, to support major expenditures on it. The nickname provoked the usually unflappable McConnell; he issued a response denouncing it as “McCarthyism.”Last year, Dana Milbank wrote:
Not three hours after Mueller finished testifying, Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, went to the Senate floor to request unanimous consent to pass legislation requiring presidential campaigns to report to the FBI any offers of assistance from agents of foreign governments.
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) was there to represent her leader’s interests. “I object,” she said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) attempted to move a bill that would require campaigns to report to the FBI contributions by foreign nationals.
“I object,” said Hyde-Smith.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) tried to force action on bipartisan legislation, written with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and supported by Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), protecting lawmakers from foreign cyberattacks. “The majority leader, our colleague from Kentucky, must stop blocking this common-sense legislation and allow this body to better defend itself against foreign hackers,” he said.
“I object,” repeated Hyde-Smith.
The next day, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the minority leader, asked for the Senate to pass the Securing America’s Federal Elections Act, already passed by the House, that would direct $600 million in election assistance to states and require backup paper ballots.
McConnell himself responded this time, reading from a statement, his chin melting into his chest, his trademark thin smile on his lips. “It’s just a highly partisan bill from the same folks who spent two years hyping up a conspiracy theory about President Trump and Russia,” he said. “Therefore, I object.” McConnell also objected to another attempt by Blumenthal to pass his bill.
Pleaded Schumer: “I would suggest to my friend the majority leader: If he doesn’t like this bill, let’s put another bill on the floor and debate it.”
But McConnell has blocked all such attempts, including:
A bipartisan bill requiring Facebook, Google and other Internet companies to disclose purchasers of political ads, to identify foreign influence.
A bipartisan bill to ease cooperation between state election officials and federal intelligence agencies.
A bipartisan bill imposing sanctions on any entity that attacks a U.S. election.
A bipartisan bill with severe new sanctions on Russia for its cybercrimes.
McConnell has prevented them all from being considered — over and over again. This is the same McConnell who, in the summer of 2016, when briefed by the CIA along with other congressional leaders on Russia’s electoral attacks, questioned the validity of the intelligence and forced a watering down of a warning letter to state officials about the threat, omitting any mention of Russia.