“Every time [Putin] sees me he says ‘I didn’t do that’ and I really believe that when he tells me that.” –President Donald Trump, Nov. 11, 2017
On Feb. 13, Congress held its annual “Worldwide Threats” hearing. At that hearing, the heads of America’s six top intelligence agencies testified that Russia interfered in our 2016 election, corroborating what all 17 agencies had previously said.
These men, all Trump appointees, further testified that Russia is actively working right now to interfere with the 2018 election. What is President Trump’s response? He believes Russian President Putin, not our intelligence agencies.
On Feb. 16, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals on several charges of meddling with the 2016 election. Some of the charges include creating false online accounts to trick people into believing false information.
“One defendant, Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina, wrote an email to a colleague saying, ‘I created all these pictures and posts, and the Americans believed that it was written by their people.’” (USA Today, 2/16/18)
A Russian-created Twitter account called “Tennessee GOP” attracted over 100,000 followers alone. Fake accounts like this allowed the Russians to promote anti-Hillary Clinton, pro-Trump rallies and events by making followers believe they were Americans supporting Trump.
Trump didn’t react to these charges as an American president should, with outrage that an adversary had attacked our democratic processes. He reacted in a purely Trumpian manner, putting himself at the center and claiming this proved he was innocent of collusion. That’s not true, of course, but that shouldn’t have been Trump’s focus anyway.
Trump should have said, “I will defend the American people from this kind of interference. We will not let Russia get away with this attack on our democracy. We will take immediate steps to prevent it from happening again.”
Instead, Trump still refuses to say one word against Putin. He continues to call the investigation a hoax and a witch hunt. He puts clearing his name at the center of the controversy. He is abdicating his responsibility to keep us safe.
At the Feb. 13 Congressional hearing, FBI Director Christopher Wray was asked if the president had asked him to investigate the Russia meddling. Wray said, “No.” On Feb. 27, U.S. Cyber Command chief Adm. Mike Rogers told Congress “he has not been granted the authority by President Donald Trump to disrupt Russian election hacking operations where they originate.” (CNN, 2/27/18)
When questioned about this lack of response, Trump’s Press Secretary Sarah Sanders made the breathtaking claim that Trump has done more to stop Russia in one year than President Barack Obama did in eight. In fact, Obama told Putin face-to-face to stop the meddling. He kicked 35 Russian diplomats out of the U.S. and seized at least two Russian diplomatic compounds. He imposed serious sanctions on Russia.
Trump then not only tried to remove the Obama sanctions, he has refused to impose the sanctions Congress passed by a combined vote of 517-5. He refuses to confront Putin. He is letting Russia continue its interference. As Adm. Rogers said, “They have not paid a price that is sufficient to change their behavior.”
According to Jeanette Manfra, head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, Russia targeted 21 states in 2018 and “an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.” (The Hill, 02/07/18) Seven states had their voter registration and other databases compromised. One successful attack is one too many, and Trump does nothing.
A February 2018 Quinnipiac poll shows that 76 percent of Americans believe that Russia interfered in our election. What can we do to protect ourselves, since Trump refuses to do so? One way is to make sure our voting systems are secure. Nevada state law requires that all voting machines have some kind of paper record, and Churchill County voting machines meet this requirement. This paper trail helps guarantee our votes aren’t tampered with.
Secure voting machines are important, but people must also be aware of the dangers created by the fake accounts and false information spread by Russian hackers. Interference in our elections starts long before we go into the voting booth. In 2018, we need to be very sure that the decisions we make are based on facts and not on lies fabricated to achieve a foreign power’s goals.
Our right to vote is one of the most precious rights we have. If Trump wants to protect Putin instead of us, we must make ourselves heard and demand that he do his job.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at email@example.com.