The news that intelligence officials warned House lawmakers that Russia is again trying to sabotage our election for Trump, and that this disclosure angered him, shatters that fiction entirely.
These revelations are already getting shrouded in euphemism. One CNN analysis insists “America” is “blundering” into another crisis of electoral legitimacy, and that the “partisan divide” is hampering the U.S. response to it.
This notion that the country writ large is stumbling helplessly into this crisis, when in fact one party is inviting it in a manner the other simply is not, and its companion idea that “partisanship” will paralyze our response to it, will be ubiquitous.
So let’s not mince words: Trump and his GOP defenders appear to be actively abetting an attack on our country. By contrast, Democrats can be accused only of passivity — a serious abdication, but not remotely comparable to what Trump and his defenders are orchestrating.
Trump is angry because our intelligence officials followed the law and informed members of both parties about what the intel indicated about new Russian efforts. Trump “berated” his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, for allowing this heresy.
Trump was particularly angered by the presence at the briefing of Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif), who led the impeachment. Trump says Schiff and Democrats will “weaponize” these revelations.
In short: Our intelligence officials have concluded that another effort to subvert our election is underway. And Trump’s leading worry is that this could be used against him, not that our election is in grave danger of being compromised.
In the haze of euphemism that will inevitably enshroud this story, this ugly fact will be blurred with suggestions that maybe Trump doesn’t really believe this is happening, since he just can’t accept that Russia attacked our election in 2016, because he feels it delegitimizes his victory. It’s pathological!
But we must reject this interpretation. Because this conclusion was reached by intelligence officials in Trump’s own administration, by multiple agencies.
It’s theoretically possible that Trump defenders have a legitimate difference of opinion about what the intelligence shows. House Republicans, we’re told, objected by arguing that there’s no evidence Russia wants to help Trump. Some reporting indicates possible internal dissent on this point.
This strains credulity, since intelligence services concluded precisely this intention last time. But even if this is reasonably possible, it is still not exonerating in the least, and the media should not be permitted to euphemize what’s happening here.
Here’s why: Because whatever Russia’s real intentions toward Trump, this is still an attack on our democracy. The Times reports that intelligence discerns numerous concrete threats: new efforts to spread disinformation to divide the country; and possibly efforts to interfere in state voting systems.
That’s not far-fetched. A bipartisan Senate investigation concluded that such efforts got much further in 2016 than we thought. And the Times reports:
One of Moscow’s main goals is to undermine confidence in American election systems, intelligence officials have told lawmakers, seeking to sow doubts over close elections and recounts.
There is zero doubt that Trump sees sowing such doubts as being good for him. He has already spent literally years trying to undermine public faith in our elections, and is likely laying the groundwork for declaring a tight loss illegitimate, a scenario election scholars such as Richard L. Hasen take seriously.
Let’s also note that there are potential practical consequences to Trump denying Congress (especially Democrats) information about outside electoral sabotage. It could mean less oversight on administration failures to protect the country, and less discussion with the public about these failures.
Trump and the ‘regime party’
The larger context here, spelled out by Adam Serwer, is the entrenchment of Trump’s GOP as a “regime party” committed to holding power through maximal manipulation of government. Trump’s Ukraine shakedown and his subsequent coverup are the most recent conspicuous examples — and his acquittal is hastening this process.
Then there’s Trump’s success at getting the Justice Department to dial back the sentencing recommendation for confidant Roger Stone. The judge noted that Stone was prosecuted for “covering up" for Trump, i.e., for covering up Trump’s efforts to benefit from outside corruption of our election last time.
If and when Trump pardons Stone, this will be why: He does not view that as a bad thing, but as a positive for him. In a sense, Trump appears to want his intelligence agencies to function as Stone did: Not to alert Congress about outside interference that might benefit him, but instead to keep it under wraps.
So now the media scrutiny must fall heavily on what the administration is doing to mitigate the threat that its own intelligence has identified. Is Trump facilitating or hindering those efforts?
And if House Democrats thought there was an opening to “stand down,” as Brian Beutler puts it, this news shatters that illusion. There is no longer any excuse for failing to ramp up the oversight immediately.
Protecting the country demands it.