Editorial: Subverting democracy – on many levels
The July 13 indictments of 12 Russian military officers on charges of conspiring to subvert our democracy should have been the most grievous headline the Trump White House had to weather this month.
But by the time President Trump got done with his disastrous “Kiss and Tell” European tour last week — kissing up to American adversary Vladimir Putin while telling off erstwhile allies at the NATO summit — it barely cracked the top 10.
While the announcement was eclipsed in the public consciousness by subsequent events, its substance remains significant.
The indictments, coming out of special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections, weren’t the result of a simple social media campaign. Or the planting of a false story.
They provide direct and damning evidence of Russian hacking into Democratic Party computer accounts and into state election commission systems.
This is profoundly serious — and remains so, as there is every indication that Russia is again poised to meddle in the upcoming midterm elections, Or, as Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told an audience in Washington, D.C., the same day the Mueller indictments were being unsealed, “the warning lights are blinking red again.”
The president’s response to the indictments should have been to cancel his pending meeting with Russian leader Putin.
Indeed, he was already coming off an embarrassing performance at that week’s NATO summit, at which he scolded our closest allies about their contributions to the agency, claimed Germany was beholden to Russia owing to a gas-pipeline deal between the nations, then announced at a closing press conference that member nations agreed to pay more (they didn’t) and everything was hunky-dory (it was not).
His subsequent weekend visit to the United Kingdom, preceded by a newspaper interview in which he criticized English Prime Minister Theresa May, was only marginally more successful.
Instead, as we know, Trump went through with the Russia summit — with disastrous results. Did he raise the indictments with Putin? Highly doubtful but, really, who knows — their two-hour conversation was one on one (other than interpreters).
In fact, one week out, there has been no explanation from the White House as to what this “summit” was all about. No word on what was discussed in private. No announcement of any deals (although Putin’s government, concerningly, has been touting verbal agreements).
What it didn’t include — judging by the excruciating press conference that followed — was any effort by Trump to seriously raise the issue of Russian interference in U.S. elections, neither the indictments nor anything else.
Instead, Trump cast doubt on his own intelligence agencies, demurring to Putin’s “powerful” denial. It was a painful and cowardly performance.
Though it didn’t seem possible, the week got worse: One day later, Trump claimed — hilariously — that a simple misstated word was to blame for the impression that he didn’t defend U.S. intelligence in the company of Russia’s leader. Then he did another 180 and defended his performance. He then told a reporter “no” when asked during a press briefing if he thought Russia was still targeting the U.S. Another tortured explanation followed (he said “no” to answering the question, not to the question itself, maintained White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders).
Oh, and to top off the week, Trump unveiled plans to invite Putin to Washington this fall — an announcement that caught Intelligence Director Coats, onstage at the Aspen Security Forum, entirely off guard.
Will Putin be coming for an up-close look at how his country’s elections-meddling machinations are working this go-around?
Again, hard to say. As usual, there has been precious little clarity from Trump and company.
Despite serious new indictments, public and political opposition both at home and abroad, any semblance of explanation, and a growing cloud of suspicion, Trump continues to court Putin in ways his own top aides are seemingly powerless to influence.
Meanwhile, Election Day draws near. The GOP-led House last week refused to authorize additional spending for elections security. And the warning lights continue to blink red.