An addendum to the report from several key Republicans is notably less restrained. The authors twice express bafflement at an effort they describe as “inept,” and end by declaring that when it comes to “protecting American democracy against our most capable and malicious adversaries. . . . We now know what happens when an administration fails.”
The Obama administration made obvious mistakes. The White House wasn’t equipped with policy options to respond to this type of campaign, and so those responses were too slow to come even after the election. The siloing of cybermatters from geopolitics, plus an insistence on a “cloak and dagger” approach that kept many relevant actors in the dark, meant those in charge missed the magnitude of the threat until it was too late. Even Mr. Obama’s national security adviser at the time, Susan E. Rice, didn’t hear about the hack of the Democratic National Committee until she read about it in The Post.
But officials back then didn’t know nearly as much as we know now. They also worried that a tit-for-tat retaliation before the election would move Russia to add another tat and perhaps alter the votes themselves, so they settled on a series of direct but vague warnings to the Kremlin. They also worried that speaking out publicly about the campaign would look like a partisan intervention in favor of Hillary Clinton, especially with then-candidate Donald Trump already alleging that the election was “rigged.” They thought that admitting the election was compromised would sow doubt about its outcome — “doing Russia’s work for them,” as the administration came to call it.
This rock-and-hard-place predicament is salient still, in an environment perhaps even more politicized than four years ago. Willingness from both parties to sign on to an acknowledgement of Russian incursions might have helped back then, and certainly it would help now. So would a willingness to counter tomorrow’s incursions today — passing election security measures that languish in the Senate, or imposing automatic sanctions for future interference, or mandating more information-sharing.
It’s here that Republicans may want to listen to their own advice. We do indeed now know what happens when an administration fails to protect democracy against our adversaries, and we risk watching it happen all over again.