Beyond impeachment: thwarting Russian interference

Tension grows between those clamoring to impeach President Trump now and those believing that, however warranted such a move is as a way to increase accountability, it could end up helping Donald Trump to a second term if the Democrats too far ahead of the rest of the country. Constitutional law professor Larry Tribe came up with an intriguing strategy: impeach the President in the House and simply not transmit it to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promises it would be dead on arrival.

Even so, the House must get on with serious investigation of the President’s transgressions in office, including the ten acts of obstruction of justice identified in the Mueller report. Beyond the issues of alleged conspiracy and obstruction of justice, lawmakers in both branches need to do more immediately to address the third leg of the stool – Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and preventing that in 2020.

From the get-go, Trump has insisted that, despite agreement of 17 U.S. intelligence agencies,  he takes Vladmir Putin at his word that Russia did not interfere in 2016 and is not interfering today. But the Mueller report makes clear that our intelligence agencies were correct. Russia hacked into Clinton campaign computers and used social media to deceive American voters. The GRU, Russia’s largest intelligence entity, stole documents from the Clintons and gave them to Wikileaks, which released 20,000 of them just three days prior to the Democratic convention. (Trump publicly encouraged Wikileaks to do so, and, five hours after his urging, Wikileaks complied.)  The Russians also launched a cyber attack on companies that make election software as well as on some state and county election officials.

Mueller indicted 26 Russian nationals and three Russian companies, for waging information warfare on the U. S. electorate and hacking into our computer systems. Several Trump campaign aides have been convicted of lying about their contacts with the Russians. Despite numerous documented contacts, Mueller said he couldn’t make a winning legal case  proving outright conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian attacks.

What is particularly concerning is how the Russians created an alternate universe in which they organized fake rallies, used phony accounts to retweet promotions of those rallies, created fake hashtags and impersonated people, all to deceive voters and undermine our democracy.  The technology for creating such fake news is even more sophisticated and readily available to would-be purveyors in the 2020 cycle.

The Department of Homeland Security under Trump has been focused on immigration, not electoral integrity. Protections against cyber attacks are seriously underfunded, including a move to have paper ballots to back up electronic voting machines and mandate security standards for each state’s technology. After Democrats gained control of the House, they passed HR 1, a bill to address the issue and provide funds for state and local government to protect their election processes.   Reprehensibly and unpatriotically, Mitch McConnell has pledged to block action on the bill.

He and his invertebrate colleagues seem to fear that admitting to a problem, one that continues to this day, could, in effect de-legitimize Trump’s win in 2016.  It’s time to get over that, and put the country first.  We’re scrambling to play catch-up with the Russians, who, will only be more formidable in the next election in the next election.

As Bob Mueller said in his ten-minute public statement after two years working on the investigation, “ there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election,” which surely deserves the attention of every one of us and those who represent us in Congress. All of us need to keep up the pressure to protect the integrity of our democratic system before there’s little democratic system left to protect.

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