Dispatch July 30, 2019

Moscow Mitch Protects Trump—and Russia

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continues to protect President Donald Trump and block steps to respond to Russia. Last week brought two major warnings for the country: Special Counsel Robert Mueller said there would be Russian interference in the 2020 presidential election, and the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report showing that the election systems of all 50 states had been subject to cyber attacks.

Instead of taking action, “Moscow Mitch” responded by blocking bipartisan bills meant to help protect future elections from foreign attacks. McConnell is leaving the door wide open for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia to interfere in 2020.

The truth clearly hurts. Yesterday, McConnell gave a speech on the Senate floor attacking those who point out what he’s doing, calling criticism of his actions “modern-day McCarthyism” by “a couple of left-wing pundits on the basis of bold-faced lies.”

But McConnell has earned his new nickname. At every turn, he’s acted to protect Trump from accountability for his campaign’s collusion with Russia—and to protect Russia from accountability for its unprecedented attacks on American democracy.

Moscow Mitch blocked a bipartisan response to Russian election interference in September 2016, a decision that hamstrung America and ultimately helped Russia’s attack succeed.

  • In September 2016, the Obama administration reportedly met with congressional leaders to discuss plans to inform the American public of the Kremlin’s interference.
  • According to then-Vice President Joe Biden, McConnell made sure that wouldn’t happen. He reportedly “voiced doubts about the underlying intelligence”—intelligence that has since been repeatedly confirmed—and threatened to accuse the Obama administration of partisanship if they came forward.
  • Now, McConnell and Trump’s other congressional accomplices have the audacity to accuse the Obama administration of not doing enough to stop Russian interference in 2016, as if the failure didn’t lie squarely at their own feet.

The Trump administration weakened sanctions on Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Moscow Mitch made sure the sanctions were lifted, despite bipartisan opposition. Then, Deripaska invested $200 million in a new plant in Kentucky.

  • In December 2018, the Trump administration negotiated a deal that would lift sanctions against three companies controlled by Oleg Deripaska, a ruthless Russian oligarch with close ties to Putin and a history of helping the Kremlin’s election-interference efforts.
    • The deal freed Deripaska from hundreds of millions of dollars in debt while also allowing him and his allies to keep majority ownership of his most important companies.
  • In response, the new Democratic House overwhelmingly passed legislation to keep sanctions on Deripaska. There was a similar bipartisan effort in the Senate, but McConnell blocked it.
  • Russian state television rejoiced, celebrating the first instance of the U.S. government rolling back sanctions on the Kremlin since Russia’s illegal 2014 invasion of Ukraine.
  • McConnell may not have been doing it only to protect the president: After the sanctions were lifted, Rusal, one of Deripaska’s aluminum companies, announced it would invest $200 million to open a plant in McConnell’s native Kentucky.

Moscow Mitch is making sure America’s elections are open to future attacks from Russia.

  • The day after Mueller’s testimony (and the day Senate Intel released its report), McConnell blocked two bills meant to protect America’s elections. The bills would have helped secure voting infrastructure and prevent future candidates from colluding with hostile foreign powers.
  • McConnell has a pattern of putting America’s elections at risk: Over the last two years, he’s prevented at least nine separate pieces of election-security legislation from even getting a vote. These bills covered important, bipartisan priorities like sanctioning foreign attackers and upgrading cybersecurity.
  • McConnell resisted all efforts to establish an independent investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election until after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, and reportedly was part of a meeting where Trump pressured Senate leaders to wrap up their investigation “as quickly as possible.”
  • And he repeatedly blocked legislation to protect Mueller and his investigation from presidential obstruction—even after The New York Times reported that Trump had tried to fire the special counsel.

The latest test for McConnell: Trump’s nomination of Representative John Ratcliffe to be the new Director of National Intelligence. Ratcliffe, who has no intelligence or national security background, played a major role in efforts to undermine the Mueller investigation, fueling disinformation campaigns and attempting to derail oversight.

Will Moscow Mitch do the right thing and send back his nomination—or will he once again show how perfectly his new nickname fits?