A warning on election interference
Confirming that Russia is still targeting American elections, the Trump administration this week sought to reassure the public that it is working to defend against foreign interference. Making a rare appearance in the White House briefing room, the nation’s top intelligence officials described a “24/7, 365-days-a-year” campaign to influence the 2018 midterm elections and beyond (see Briefing). Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters that, in addition to spreading misinformation on social media, the Russians have shown a “willingness and a capability” to hack into election infrastructure such as voter rolls and voting machines. “Our democracy is in the crosshairs,” Nielsen said.
The briefing came several days after President Trump held his first-ever National Security Council meeting dedicated to election security. Afterward, the White House released a statement saying that the administration “will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections,” but didn’t issue any new policy directives. Despite his officials’ insistence that election security is a top priority, Trump himself continued to cast doubt on the idea that Russians have interfered in U.S. elections. “We are being hindered by the Russian hoax,” Trump said at a rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., just hours after the briefing-room update on election security. “It’s a hoax, OK?”
What the columnists said
President Trump’s election security push is a sham, said Max Boot in The Washington Post. With fewer than 100 days to go until the midterms, Trump held a “pro forma” meeting that lasted less than an hour and resulted in zero concrete action. Meanwhile, he continues to undercut the dire warnings of his intelligence experts. It doesn’t matter if Trump’s deputies are doing their “level best” to protect the country if they don’t have presidential support. At this point, “it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that Trump is perfectly happy that no one is minding the store.”
“We know we would be delusional to expect Trump to defend U.S. democracy,” said Frida Ghitis in CNN.com. He sees any discussion of Russian election interference as delegitimizing his victory in 2016. “But what about congressional Republicans; why aren’t they responding with the urgency this crisis demands?” Last week, Senate Republicans voted down a bill that would have provided $250 million in additional funding for election security before the midterms. House Republicans blocked a similar bill last month. Maybe they’re simply afraid of upsetting Trump. But “perhaps they are hoping to benefit from Moscow’s work.”
The real threat from Russia isn’t election hacking, said Betsy McCaughey in the New York Post. Russian hackers infiltrated over 100 electrical utilities in the U.S. last year, according to the Department of Homeland Security. In some cases, the attackers would have been able to shut down power delivery if they’d wanted to. Washington remains obsessed with election meddling, but if Russia launched a major cyberattack on our electrical grid, “we’d have no lights, no gas at the pump, no life support in hospitals, no mass transit, no food supply.” Why isn’t that getting more attention than Russian internet trolls?