Dispatch May 8, 2019

McConnell Shows He’s Got Trump’s Back on Russia

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s floor speech yesterday declaring the Russia investigation “case closed” reveals just how much Trump and his defenders are panicking.  McConnell has consistently used his position of power to cover for the president and block meaningful inquiry into Russia’s attack on the United States when it was politically inconvenient for Trump. So it’s not surprising that when a report was released outlining the Trump campaign’s continuous contacts with Russian operatives and the administration’s efforts to obstruct an investigation into those contacts, McConnell once again began running interference for Trump.

McConnell has repeatedly leveraged his power to protect the President and undermine attempts to curb Russia’s attack on the U.S. election:

  • McConnell dismissed warnings about Russian election interference as early as 2015. McConnell, along with other Senate and House leaders, was reportedly briefed by U.S. intelligence officials about ongoing Russian efforts to hack the Democratic Party in the summer of 2015. In late August 2016, CIA Director John Brennan began a series of “urgent, individual” briefings for the “Gang of Eight” members, including McConnell, to inform them of Russian efforts to elect then-candidate Trump.
  • McConnell blocked a bipartisan response to Russian interference during the 2016 election. In September 2016, the “Gang of 12”—which includes House and Senate leaders and chairmen and ranking members of the intelligence and homeland security committees—received a briefing from senior intelligence officials on Russian interference in the election. Congressional Republican leadership prevented a bipartisan statement condemning this interference. McConnell “raised doubts about the underlying intelligence” and issued a statement about election security that failed to mention Russia at all.
  • McConnell blocked efforts to keep sanctions on a high-ranking Russian oligarch. Earlier this year, McConnell and the Senate majority blocked an effort to keep sanctions on companies tied to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. The effort came in response to the Treasury Department’s decision in December to lift the sanctions on the companies tied to Deripaska, one of Putin’s closest allies. Relieving these sanctions allowed Rusal, the Russian aluminum giant owned by Deripaska, to invest $200 million in a Kentucky aluminum plant.
  • McConnell resisted calls for independent investigations into Russian interference. Despite warnings from the intelligence community, throughout 2017 McConnell time and time again resisted calls for an independent, vigorous investigation and threw his support behind truncated efforts by standing Senate committees to investigate the matter. Trump also pressured McConnell to ensure that the Russia investigation came to an end quickly.
  • McConnell also repeatedly blocked legislation to protect the Special Counsel and blocked a bipartisan resolution to release the full Mueller findings. In April 2018, McConnell refused to hold a floor vote on bipartisan legislation designed to protect the Mueller investigation, and in November 2018, McConnell worked again to block a bill to protect the Mueller investigation. Amid bipartisan calls for the release of Mueller’s findings – including a unanimous resolution in the House – McConnell also blocked a Senate resolution to make the report public.
  • McConnell refused to move forward with bipartisan legislation designed to prevent future foreign interference. Specifically, McConnell has not moved forward with:
    • Election security bill: In 2017, Senators Klobuchar (D-MN), Lankford (R-OK), Harris (D-CA), and Graham (R-SC) introduced the Secure Elections Act, a bill to strengthen election cybersecurity in America and protect against foreign interference in future elections. Cosponsors include Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).
    • Foreign influence legislation: The DETER Act, introduced by Sens. Rubio and Van Hollen, would impose sanctions in the event that a foreign actor interferes in America’s election.
    • Russia sanctions: The Graham-Menendez Bill would apply sanctions on Russian banks that support efforts to interfere in foreign elections, Russia’s cyber sector, and individuals deemed to “facilitate illicit and corrupt activities, directly or indirectly, on behalf of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.”

McConnell is trying to close the case because it is so damning of his boss. Mueller’s report demonstrates that the Trump campaign did indeed work with the Russian interference campaign:

  • According to the Mueller report, the Trump campaign shared internal polling data with a Russian agent multiple times throughout the campaign.
  • Trump knew Russia was behind the hack and he knew in advance about future WikiLeaks releases were coming. His associates set up backchannels to the Russian cut-out WikiLeaks to coordinate on the timing those releases, and when asked about the hack, he lied and covered up for Russia. Trump also campaigned on the information stolen by Russia, mentioning WikiLeaks 164 times publicly the last month of the campaign.
  • The Trump campaign and transition had at least 251 secret contacts with Russia-linked operatives, including 37 meetings and they lied and sought to cover up every single one.

What’s worse is the Trump campaign’s pattern of encouraging and rewarding Russian attacks appears to be happening all over again. Trump’s own FBI Director has said these attacks are happening “365 days a year,” but Trump continues to praise Putin while refusing to respond to these attacks  – even refusing to deny future help from Russia.

And just like before, Mitch McConnell is there to back up the president every step of the way.