“When we confront foreign interference in American elections, it is important for us to avoid thinking politically as Republicans or Democrats and instead to think patriotically as Americans. … The blame for election interference belongs to the criminals who committed election interference. We need to work together to hold the perpetrators accountable.”
So said Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein at a Justice Department news conference unveiling the indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers charged with hacking Democratic emails to help tilt the 2016 election.
“I think that we’re being hurt very badly by the … I would call it the rigged witch hunt … I think that really hurts our country and it really hurts our relationship with Russia.”
So said the man who solicited the hacking and benefited from it. His own Justice Department’s indictment alleges that on the very day that Trump implored “Russia, if you’re listening” to find Hillary Clinton’s missing 30,000 emails, the Russian hackers “attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time” email accounts related to Clinton’s personal office, along with 76 email addresses at her campaign.
Yet Trump, briefed in advance about the indictment and knowing that it was about to be unsealed in a few hours, could not summon the palest imitation of Rosensteinian outrage at Russian interference with — attack on, really — a U.S. election. Not then — he brought up the “witch hunt” unbidden, in response to a question about Russian occupation of Crimea.
Not, even, after the indictment was released. “Alleged hacking,” White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters termed Russia’s actions in a statement that offered zero condemnation of the interference.
And then there was the inevitable, day-after Trumpian tweetstorm. Stopping off at his Scottish golf course before his meeting with Russia, Trump resorted to his trademark deflection of responsibility and victim-blaming.
“Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t the FBI take possession of it? Deep State?” he tweeted. And then, 11 minutes later, even more astonishing: “The stories you heard about the 12 Russians yesterday took place during the Obama Administration, not the Trump Administration. Why didn’t they do something about it, especially when it was reported that President Obama was informed by the FBI in September, before the Election?”
Stories you heard? Those aren’t “stories” — they are charges from a federal grand jury. Charges previously supported by the unanimous conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community. Charges echoed on the very day of the indictment by Trump’s director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, who warned of a pre-9/11-style “warning lights are blinking red again” threat of cyberattack.
“These actions are persistent, they’re pervasive, and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not,” Coats said at the Hudson Institute. With respect to the midterms, he added: “We are just one click of the keyboard away from a similar situation repeating itself.”
At this point, Trump’s indifference to the Russian threat has lost its capacity to shock. His instinct in the aftermath of the indictment was, as always, to lash out at a perceived threat to his validity rather than to acknowledge the gravity of the situation, looking back at 2016 or ahead to November and beyond.
But we — we in the media, and we as a country — fail in our responsibilities if we simply accept this response with a resigned shrug, Trump being Trump. It is folly to expect that to change. But it is self-defeating weakness, a corroding of baseline expectations of minimal presidential responsibility, not to call it out.
It is even worse, as too many Republicans — nearly all elected Republicans — are doing, to enable it. How sickening to read in Politico that, even as Rosenstein announced the indictment, House conservatives are “putting the finishing touches on an impeachment filing” to oust the meddlesome deputy. How laughable to claim, as did Trump’s private lawyer Rudy Giuliani, that the indictment shows it is “time for [special counsel Robert S. Mueller III] to end this pursuit of the President and say President Trump is completely innocent.”
It is time — past time — to do as Rosenstein suggested: think patriotically as Americans. That this even needed to be said tells you everything about where we are.