Donald Trump has been absent as Russia attacked our election and democracy. He has been weak in his response to the 2016 election interference since taking office. He refused to implement new sanctions during his first year as president, despite the fact that the intelligence community unanimously concluded that Russia had interfered. When Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals for election interference, his silence on the threat of interference continued. And despite warnings from top intelligence officials that Russia is planning to interfere once again in the upcoming midterm elections, Trump has done nothing to stop them or secure our elections. Our president is refusing to protect our democracy.
Pushback on Congressional sanctions bill
Barack Obama sanctioned four Russian individuals and five Russian entities, and expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the country for their role in election interference. In August 2017, Congress passed a bill that sanctioned certain Russian officials in retaliation for the election interference. The near-unanimous vote forced Trump’s hand in signing the bill, but he publicly criticized it for violating the Constitution.
In January 2018, the Trump administration announced it would not implement any of the new sanctions passed under the law. The administration claimed that the legislation itself was acting as a “deterrent” to future Russia meddling, and this meant there was no need for new sanctions. However, top intelligence officials have since warned that Russia is intending to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections — proving contrary to the Trump administration’s rationale.
On March 15, 2018, the Treasury Department finally imposed new sanctions on 24 Russian nationals and organizations for election interference. However, Trump himself has remained silent on the issue of the new sanctions. Most of the sanctions were placed on entities and people that were already sanctioned by Obama or indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Money for fighting interference left on the table
Trump has failed as a commander-in-chief by refusing to lead a forceful effort to prevent future Russian attacks on our elections. The Pentagon had $60 million of its budget for the 2017 fiscal year set aside for the State Department’s Global Engagement Center to counter Russian propaganda and disinformation, but former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson never made a request for the funding and the offer for that year expired. The State Department also had allocated $20 million of its own budget for fighting Russian propaganda, but it did not use any of those funds either.
The State Department was offered another $60 million for the 2018 fiscal year, but the agency spent months deliberating whether to use the money or not. When it finally accepted funds for the Center, it only took $40 million of the $60 million offered. In addition to the Center’s reduced and delayed funding, none of its 23 analysts speaks Russian.
No direction for the intelligence community
Despite warnings from top intelligence officials that Russia intends to interfere in the 2018 election, Trump refuses to direct his intelligence chiefs to prevent Russian attacks. In a hearing with the Senate Intelligence Armed Services, Cyber Command chief Admiral Mike Rogers said Trump had not granted him authority to fight Russian election hacking operations at the source. Rogers also said that the U.S. is not doing enough to prevent Russia from interfering in the next election. At the hearing, FBI Director Christopher Way said Trump did not request that the FBI combat Russian election interference.
The White House claims that President Trump has been tougher on Russia than his predecessor, but the evidence shows the opposite. He took more than a year to implement sanctions, despite almost unanimous Congressional support. His administration has done little to prevent another attack. An entity explicitly dedicated to fighting disinformation did not accept millions of dollars that were allocated to it, and top members of the intelligence community said they were not given direction from the president to combat election interference. If Trump refuses to act on Russian election interference, how can we expect to have faith in the freedom and fairness of our elections?
At times Donald Trump puts the interests of Russia and Vladimir Putin above the U.S. What exactly are Trump’s ties to Russia? Why is he so keen on praising Putin, and so worried about not offending him? Who is our president really serving?