The other day, the New York Times reported that, before getting pushed out as homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen wanted to warn President Trump that the administration urgently needed to prepare for another round of Russian attacks on our political system in 2020.
Nielsen had discovered that Russia was experimenting with “new and different” forms of electoral sabotage, the Times reported. But acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney made it clear that Trump didn’t like hearing about Russian interference, because it diminished his 2016 win.
So Nielsen eventually gave up on the marshaling of a serious, concerted response. “As a result,” the Times concluded, “the issue did not gain the urgency or widespread attention that a president can command. And it meant that many Americans remain unaware of the latest versions of Russian interference.”
Now keep that in mind as you read this account of an interview that Brad Parscale, the man running Trump’s 2020 reelection effort, gave to a Sinclair anchor:
Parscale also addressed whether the Trump campaign would accept help from Russia in next year's election, a question posed to White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley earlier this week.
“It’s a joke,” Parscale stated. “There was never any help from the Russians.”
Parscale apparently didn’t quite mean to say Russia did nothing at all, because he went on to claim that whatever efforts Russia did make were tiny and inconsequential.
But whichever meaning you ascribe to Parscale here, he’s lying. The Mueller report concluded that “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion,” to help Trump win. The report documents what this looked like over dozens and dozens of pages. So the sabotage effort was not remotely inconsequential, let alone nonexistent.
What’s more, the report concluded that the Trump campaign “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts,” and documents this at length, as well. So we know the campaign itself viewed the Russian efforts as “help.”
It’s remarkable how the Trump propaganda network continues to hold the report up as total vindication (based on outright lies about what the report found, particularly on obstruction of justice), while pretending the report’s extensive conclusions on the Russian sabotage effort itself simply don’t exist.
Of course, we now know — from that Times report — that Trump’s underlings are discouraged from mentioning the Russian interference campaign at all, because it raises doubts about the greatness of his victory. So, when Parscale tells this lie, he surely knows it will be very pleasing to the Audience of One.
But we actually know more than this. We know that Trump’s hatred of this truth cramped the government’s ability to marshal a response to more of the same. This was also documented in an exhaustive Post report from December 2017, which concluded that Trump’s “refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality” has “impaired the government’s response to a national security threat.”
And we now know that this persisted right up through Nielsen’s departure. Never mind whether these recent leaks represent an effort by Nielsen to rehabilitate herself; even if so, much of this story have been confirmed, and the story is obviously significant well beyond what this means for Nielsen.
Parscale is denying that the campaign will accept Russian help again. But Mueller’s report confirms the campaign welcomed it last time. Now, in an act of staggering dishonesty and bad faith, Trumpworld is claiming, in effect, that the Mueller report vindicates Trump’s claim that the whole Russia story was a “hoax” — including the Russian attack itself, irrespective of whether there was any criminal conspiracy — even though the Mueller report concluded precisely the opposite.
Combine this with Trump’s ongoing refusal to marshal a serious response to another round in 2020, and it’s hard to read all this as anything other than an open invitation to do it again.
It’s worth reiterating that this feeds into Trump’s obstruction of justice and the argument over whether to initiate an impeachment inquiry. As I keep repeating, in trying to derail the investigation, Trump didn’t merely seek to impede an investigation into his own campaign’s conduct, but he also sought to derail a full accounting of the Russian attack on our political system, separate and apart from whether his own campaign conspired with it, which weakened our ability to protect against the next one.
As impeachment scholar Philip Bobbitt told me, this could qualify as a “high crime and misdemeanor," which is to say that it strengthens the case for initiating an impeachment inquiry focused in part on that obstruction.
When Parscale pleases the Audience of One by telling the lie that Russia never helped Trump in 2016, he’s just reminding us that this is Trump’s position as well — and that Trump engaged in extensive corruption and probable criminality to prevent the contrary truth from coming out.