Lost in the torrent of post-Mueller report rantings by Donald Trump was its confirmation that the 2016 presidential election was indeed the subject of a wide-ranging attack by Russia, which has given every indication it intends to do it all over again in 2020.
So perhaps when the president and his Republican cheering squad in the Senate finish high-fiving one another, they might get back to work on protecting the US electoral system from another invasion. Ignorance, after all, is no longer an excuse. It may not be “collusion,” but there is a point at which the failure to act would certainly constitute nonfeasance — and incompetence.
“A lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, very bad things,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office this week. “I would say treasonous things against our country.”
He was, of course, talking about his political enemies here — not Vladimir Putin, who ought to be the real recipient of his wrath. That was one critical take-away from the Mueller report, or at least Attorney General William Barr’s summary of it.
“The report outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with those efforts,” Barr wrote in his letter to Congress. Those included “attempts by a Russian organization, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), to conduct disinformation and social media operations. . . designed to sow social discord, eventually with the aim of interfering with the election.”
As a result, in February 2018, the Mueller team secured indictments against 13 Russians and three Russian companies for their role in plotting to disrupt the 2016 election.
The other element in Russian interference “involved the Russian government’s efforts to conduct computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election,” Barr wrote.
That resulted in the July indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers.
It would, of course, be helpful in preventing another round of electoral interference to learn from the details of the Mueller report itself — another reason its contents should be provided to Congress in short order.
We know from the February 2018 indictment that Russians were focusing on the presidential election as early as 2014. Russians traveled here as part of their due diligence. They targeted purple states and, more broadly, racial minorities.
It’s a safe assumption, confirmed by the nation’s intelligence community, that they are not about to quit now.
So what to do?
Social media companies, which were weaponized by the Russians, need to be better and smarter. Facebook announced Tuesday that it had removed 2,632 pages, groups, and accounts from both Facebook and Instagram for “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” Of those, 1,907 were linked to Russia.
Cybersecurity needs to go to the top of the congressional to-do list. Sure, the Democratic National Committee will no doubt learn from its 2016 mistakes, but federal law enforcement has a continuing role to play here — not simply advising, but giving targeted organizations a heads-up, as they attempted to do for the DNC in 2016.
And while elections remain a 50-state function, there must be at least minimal federal standards to assure that voting systems are as secure as humanly possible — that indeed every vote will be counted.
It is also of critical importance that interference in a US election carries with it punishment that is swift and sure. So far, it hasn’t. The indicted Russian operatives remain beyond reach. Trump has actually removed sanctions against three Russian firms with ties to a Russian oligarch implicated in the election subversion scheme. What kind of message does that send?
Perhaps when the president finishes crowing about the end of the “witch hunt,” he’ll focus on his real responsibility — to protect American voters from the next attack on their democracy.