Dispatch July 17, 2018

From Helsinki to Washington: Collusion in Plain Sight

In the span of a few days, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking the American election to help elect President Donald Trump and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) arrested and charged a Russian operative with infiltrating conservative political organizations and the Republican Party. Sandwiched between these indictments was Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, where President Trump left no doubt that he is part of the ongoing conspiracy against the United States.

Republicans in Congress now face a choice: Either they must step up and move from rhetoric to action, or they will be complicit in Trump’s sell-out of America.

President Trump’s performance at the summit in Helsinki was one of the most shameful moments in the history of the American presidency. Offered a chance to affirm his loyalty to his country and the rule of law, Trump instead sided with the head of a hostile foreign power who ordered an unprecedented attack on American democracy. In the process, Trump not only abdicated his responsibility to confront Putin but also gave the Russian president the green light to interfere in upcoming U.S. elections.

  • Trump not only failed to dispute Putin’s denial that the Kremlin was responsible for the hacking and release of Democratic emails in 2016, but he also repeatedly condemned the investigation into that attack and strongly suggested that he believes Putin over his own intelligence community.
    • Today’s walk-back statement was no better: Even as he claimed to reaffirm his belief in his own intelligence community, he went on to excuse Russia by saying that other countries may also have been responsible.
  • In one of the conference’s more bizarre moments, Trump complimented Putin on his “interesting idea” to allow Russian investigators—employees of the same government who carried out the hack—to take over Mueller’s job and to investigate American law enforcement and intelligence agents.
  • As the editorial board of The Washington Post opined, “In Helsinki, Mr. Trump again insisted ‘there was no collusion’ with Russia. Yet in refusing to acknowledge the plain facts about Russia’s behavior, while trashing his own country’s justice system, Mr. Trump in fact was openly colluding with the criminal leader of a hostile power.”
  • Now, Russia’s Ministry of Defense is calling for the implementation of an agreement Trump and Putin apparently reached behind closed doors, driving home the fact that we still don’t know what concessions Trump may have made—and based on Trump’s past behavior, those concessions could be substantial.

The latest Special Counsel and DOJ charges reveal a broad Russian effort to undermine the Democratic Party and infiltrate conservative organizations and the Republican Party.  

  • Maria Butina, who was indicted for acting as an agent of the Russian government, is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association with strong ties to the Russian government who, according to the indictment, infiltrated the organization “as part of her pro-Kremlin operations” to set up back-channel communications between Russia and the United States.
  • As we wrote when rumors of the connection first surfaced, the links between the Kremlin and the NRA have always been suspect: There’s no meaningful pro-gun movement in Russia, lending credence to the idea that the Kremlin was building a relationship with the NRA to infiltrate the Republican Party.
  • Butina is a one-woman embodiment of these efforts: In just the last three years, she’s appeared with a bevy of Republican and pro-gun leaders, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, NRA lobbyist Wayne LaPierre, National Security Adviser John Bolton, and, yes, Trump himself.
  • The indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers alleges that Russian hackers targeted both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee, looking for opposition and field operation plans. They diverted donations away from the DCCC, stole DNC analytics, and hacked state boards of elections. The indictments also indicate that individuals other than Trump were benefitting from the hackers’ stolen data.

Top Republicans, including many in Congress, have expressed disappointment and outrage over Trump’s performance yesterday. Unless they act now to turn that umbrage into action, they will be complicit in Trump’s total sell-out of America to a hostile foreign power.

  • According to Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) Democrats in both the House and the Senate unsuccessfully pressed their Republican counterparts to compel Butina to testify. If Republicans sincerely want to get to the bottom of Russian interference, they must take this opportunity to conduct a full investigation rather than one designed to cover for Trump.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is currently sitting on a special counsel protection bill that has successfully been voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. If Republicans sincerely want to get to the bottom of Russian interference, they must take this opportunity to pass legislation to defend the investigation.
  • The White House has resisted any efforts to censure Russia for its actions in 2016 or protect American elections going forward. If Republicans sincerely want to protect the country from further Russian interference, they must take this opportunity to sanction those responsible for the 2016 attack and defend democracy going forward.
  • Republican leaders have repeatedly reaffirmed their belief that nobody, not even the president, should be above the law. If Republicans sincerely believe in this principle, they must reject the nomination of a U.S. Supreme Court justice specifically appointed to protect Trump from all accountability.
  • Republican leaders have repeatedly blocked election security legislation from moving forward. Meanwhile, our own intelligence leaders have warned that Russian interference is ongoing and targeting the upcoming midterm elections. If Republicans sincerely believe in democracy, they must support funding and legislation that will shore up our elections.
  • Finally, Republicans in Congress should hold immediate hearings of inquiry with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly about what happened behind closed doors in Helsinki.

Trump’s disgraceful performance in Helsinki requires action as well as words. It’s time for concerned congressional Republicans to demonstrate their devotion to America by holding both Putin and Trump accountable for their actions.