EDITORIAL: Trump's election-tampering strategy: Don't ask, don't tell

York Dispatch Editorial Board
FILE -In this June 20, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump, center, with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, left, and Vice President Mike Pence, right, addresses members of the media before signing an executive order to end family separations, during an event in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. For some time now, Trump has been encouraging people to think Mexico is a portal for international terrorists who “pour” into the U.S. Except, he says, for 10 who were recently caught by the U.S.: “These are very serious people.” These 10 do not exist, except as a federal statistic that Trump and his vice president put through a rhetorical grinder in service of describing emigrants from Mexico as a menace. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

With her defense of heinous immigration practices such as separating families seeking asylum at the border and her refusal to acknowledge these practices were, indeed, official U.S. policy, former Homeland Security Director Kirstjen Nielsen was far from a sympathetic figure.

Her departure last month was generally greeted with a “don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out” attitude among pundits and the public alike.

But one statement Nielsen offered upon her exit induced, if not sympathy for the difficulty in serving an undisciplined and uninformed boss, concern over the brazen disregard that boss maintains for one of the biggest threats facing the Constitution he swore to uphold.

“In the months before Kirstjen Nielsen was forced to resign, she tried to focus the White House on one of her highest priorities as homeland security secretary: preparing for new and different Russian forms of interference in the 2020 election,” The New York Times reported on April 24. “President Trump’s chief of staff told her not to bring it up in front of the president.”

Even two-plus years after taking office, President Donald Trump’s fragile ego still cannot allow for the fact that Russian interference may have helped tilt the 2016 election — whether his campaign actively abetted it or not.

That means, with less than two years until the next presidential election, far too little has been done to counter new attempts at election meddling from Russia and other enemies of democracy.

And those attempts are coming.

Speaking at the Counsel of Foreign Relations on Friday, FBI Director Christopher Wray acknowledged that Russia “poses a very significant counterintelligence threat.

Tell that to the White House, where Trump and other top officials continue to downplay Russia’s involvement in 2016, and the shadow it could cast over 2020.

Just Tuesday, presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, who inexplicably retains a top security clearance in his undeserved role as a White House advisor, tried to argue that the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller was a greater threat to the United States than Russian interference in elections.

That, unfortunately, is the kind of drivel that flows unrestricted into the largely fact-free zone that is the Oval Office.

Real-world concerns such as those Nielsen harbored about Russia’s continued activity around U.S. elections — ranging, as the Times reported, from “its search for new techniques to divide Americans using social media, to experiments by hackers, to rerouting internet traffic and infiltrating power grids” — are not even raised in front of an easily affronted president.

Handlers such as White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who warned Nielsen off of flagging Russian meddling, insulate the president from the truth — and, in doing so, the nation from legitimate elections protections.

Nor is Nielsen a lone voice of frustration. An unnamed administration official vented similar concerns to CNN, telling the network that getting the White House to pay attention to the Russian threat was “like pulling teeth.”

That the president insists on his own reality is not news. His invention of events, quotes, statistics and “facts” is mind-bogglingly prolific.

But his insistence that the U.S. also occupy that land of make believe — and, worse, his handlers’ fearfulness or inability to allow real-world threats to sully his fantasy world — could well lead to a very rude awakening come November 2020.