Terry H. Schwadron
Wait! What? Is it too early in the morning, or does this just make no sense?
The Washington Post publishes a major takeout, and television picks up, laying out the paralyzing choices that the Obama administration perceived in recognizing that the Russians were trying hard to influence U.S. elections.
And President Trump’s response is that the media isn’t paying attention to it?
It might make sense if no one had written the details of the agony that the Obama group had experienced — maybe. But this story has been around in some form or other since last summer, and it has drawn media attention aplenty.
So much so, that the President and those around him have pushed back repeatedly about FAKE NEWS that the Russians had been involved.
But in a series of tweets since the Post story, Donald Trump now says, “By the way, if Russia was working so hard on the 2016 Election, it all took place during the Obama Admin. Why didn’t they stop them?” And another tweet: “Just out: The Obama Administration knew far in advance of November 8th about election meddling by Russia. Did nothing about it. WHY?”
Okay, timing and reality notwithstanding, a fair enough question by the President.
Except for one thing. Obama did act. He went to Vladimir Putin personally and told him to knock it off. And then, after the election, he expelled 30 Russian operatives and seized two properties on the Maryland shore where apparently spy equipment was installed and was being used.
As the Post story lays out in excruciating, sourced detail, Obama was turning himself into a pretzel on behalf of Trump and Trump supporters, not to publicly undercut the electioneering, doubly important because Obama, like everyone else, saw that the election was leaning in Hillary Clinton’s direction. Until it didn’t — but that was months later.
Instead, the Obama team resolved not to risk further interference with the election results as well as the disinformation campaigns, offered to help the DNC and the states to harden their defenses (rejected in most instances), and delay any retribution until after the election.
Then came November, and Mr. Trump as overnight winner.
All of which leads to the question: What is Mr. Trump now doing about Russian influence, which the same U.S. intelligence services say continues to be a threat?
· Rather than act, Mr. Trump continues to deny that the Russians were involved, ignoring what his intelligence services say.
· Mr. Trump e is weighing returning the two seized properties to Russia, even as evidence emerges that they were being used as support centers for cyber-spying and distribution of faked material about the election.
· And the President’s campaign associates and Mr. Trump himself are still in a heap of personal and presidential trouble over his various attempts to corral the investigations about all things Russia.
Indeed, it was enough to bring Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the President, back for absurdity on CNN. In exchanges with Alisyn Camerota, Conway refused to say under repeated questions whether Mr. Trump is taking any specific actions to stymie future attempts by the Russian government to interfere in elections. Asked about the Post story, Conway instead denied that the Russians were successful in influencing the election, and insisted that there is no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians, an allegation at the heart of ongoing congressional and FBI investigations.
That, of course, had not been the question on the table. It was about attempted influence without regard to whom it may have benefitted.
Conway said that the President “would be concerned about anybody interfering in our democracy,” and then compared the Russian interference to criticism from Trump’s doubters in the US. “We saw a lot of people interfering with our democracy by saying he couldn’t win here at home,” Conway said. “The president has met with his national security team many times, he has an initiative or a commission on voter integrity,” Conway said, “and he, himself, has used the power of the bully pulpit to express his resistance to any type of outside interference.”
In short, even in the words of Kellyanne Conway, Mr. Trump is doing exactly nothing about the Russian interference in the elections. Apparently, the President feels that even the notion of interference would undercut the legitimacy of his election.
Two or more congressional investigations and a Special Counsel’s probe say different. Indeed, what has stood out to many Congress members in testimony to date has been the apparent lack of any concern about actual acts of interference by the Russians.
I wish the President would give half the effort he gives to self-promotion to discovering some truth and figuring out what to do about it.