Earlier this week there was little reported but important testimony by former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns to the Senate intelligence committee in regard to Russia’s hacking of European elections.
Here is a good highlights summary from the American Bridge PAC. Trump’s Unwillingness To Act On Russia Is A “Dereliction Of The Basic Duty To Defend The Country”:
Here are six must-see moments from today’s hearing:
WATCH: No doubt Russia attacked our election
AMBASSADOR NICHOLAS BURNS: There is no doubt about Russia’s systematic campaign to undermine our 2016 presidential election, the Montenegrin, Dutch, French and German elections this year. And Russia’s seeking to diminish the confidence that the citizens of all these countries have in their democracies.
WATCH: It would be a mistake for Trump to weaken or veto sanctions on Russia
AMBASSADOR NICHOLAS BURNS: I hope the House of Representatives will back, and not dilute, in this sense the very strong Senate sanctions bill against Moscow that you passed by a 97-2 margin two weeks ago. In my view, it would be a great mistake for President Trump to veto such a bill. And with our long national two-century debate about the separation of powers in mind, I do think that Congress, it’s time for the Congress, and not the President, to lead the American response to Russia’s cyberattack on the United States. The President has shown that he’s unwilling to act against Russia. And that is why the Congressional Review provision in your Senate bill makes eminent sense so that the administration cannot ease or lift the sanctions on Russia until Putin’s attacks on our democratic elections have ceased, and until he’s met the provisions of the two Minsk agreements on Ukraine and Crimea.
WATCH: If Trump continues to refuse to hold Russia accountable it will be a dereliction of his duty to defend this country
AMBASSADOR NICHOLAS BURNS: It is his duty, President Trump’s, to be skeptical of Russia. It is his duty to investigate and defend our country against cyber-offensives, because Russia’s our most dangerous adversary in the world today. And if he continues to refuse to act, it’s a dereliction of the basic duty to defend the country.
WATCH: Expert panel unanimously agreed Putin ordered the attack on our election
SENATOR RICHARD BURR: Do you have any doubt that Russian interference is driven by Putin himself? I’ll start with you Ambassador Burns.
AMBASSADOR NICHOLAS BURNS: No doubt about it.
DIRECTOR JANIS SARTS: The same answer: no doubt.
AMBASSADOR VESKO GARCEVIC: No doubt.
CONSTANZE STELZENMUELLER: None.
WATCH: Europeans don’t see Trump and the United States as the leader against Russia anymore because Trump has not been strong on sanctions and hostile to NATO
SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS: Ambassador Burns, can you tell me what you believe has been the impact of our reputation, with our allies in Europe in particular, as a result of this administration’s failure to acknowledge that Russia hacked and attempted to manipulate the election of the President of the United States, and if you believe there has been an impact in terms of our standing with our allies in Europe? Do you believe that is going to have an impact on our ability to protect ourselves and guard against what should be a predictable attack on our 2018 elections by Russia?
AMBASSADOR NICHOLAS BURNS: Thank you, Senator. I think the basic problem is that the Europeans are accustomed to looking toward the United States to lead on any big issue. This is a big issue and the hearing is central to it, because all of are under attack from a systematic Russian campaign. But they don’t see the United States leading. And if you combine – and this is partly in in response to Senator Cotton’s very good question as well – President Trump has not been strong on the sanctions against Ukraine. He’s not been an advocate for the territorial independence of Ukraine. He’s not spoken out on interference and he’s been very ambivalent, even hostile, to NATO, and seems to look at Germany as a strategic economic competitor, not as an ally. If you put all that together, I think that’s the first time since 1945 that Europeans might likely see Angela Merkel right now as leader of the West, not President Trump. I don’t say that lightly, and I think it’s a sad statement to make, but I think it’s a true statement. So we need to recover our leadership role and you do that by actions.
WATCH: Expect Russia to deploy more sophisticated and elaborate attacks on our upcoming elections
SENATOR JACK REED: From your perspective, are the Russians working on, already working on in our case the ’16 campaign or the ’18 campaign in the United States, are they going to deploy more sophisticated cyber operations against our registration and electoral systems? There’s been some reports in Great Britain in context of the Brexit vote that there was an attack on registration systems. And I guess the biggest question of them all is are they already there and we don’t know it because of the ability to use some tools that have fallen into their hands? So if you could.
DIRECTOR JANIS SARTS: One thing that we’ve registered: Russians do experimentation. Sometimes you see an odd pattern that is inconsequential in a given circumstances and you kind of dismiss it because it has no effect. But when you look forward, or retrospectively when you’ve seen these cases, you see that has been the test case for a particular tool. So, they’re doing it right now. It’s not necessarily that they test it in the theatre they’re going to deploy it. It might be a very different place. So yes, there will be more elaborate tools both from technical but also from a cognitive perspective. I would expect there’ll be more. But I think the choices whether to and how to do that would be made pretty close within the contextual circumstances of a moment.
Nancy Le Tourneau at the Political Animal Blog explains why all of this is so important. Trump Plans Giveaways to His Buddy Putin:
If Donald Trump were smart, he’d be listening to his advisors. He’s not.
As President Donald Trump lashes out at former President Barack Obama for failing to take a harder line against Russia for election meddling, Trump’s own advisers are struggling to convince him that Russia still poses a threat, according to multiple senior administration officials…
But the Trump administration has taken no public steps to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 election. Multiple senior administration officials said there are few signs the President is devoting his time or attention to the ongoing election-related cyber threat from Russia.
But according to Julian Borger, he’s doing more than simply ignoring the cyber threat posed by Russia.
Donald Trump has told White House aides to come up with possible concessions to offer as bargaining chips in his planned meeting next week with Vladimir Putin, according to two former officials familiar with the preparations.
National security council staff have been tasked with proposing “deliverables” for the first Trump-Putin encounter, including the return of two diplomatic compounds Russians were ordered to vacate by the Obama administration in response to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election, the former officials said. It is not clear what Putin would be asked to give in return.
Not only is Trump ignoring the cyber threat, he is considering the possibility of returning two diplomatic compounds to Putin—the very ones that Obama ordered vacated in response to Russia’s interference in the election.
Trying to follow any logic associated with Trump’s behavior is a fool’s errand. He just went on a Twitter tirade last week about how Obama did nothing in response to Russia’s behavior. Simultaneously, he was asking his national security staff to propose “deliverables” he could give to Putin, including the reversal of what Obama did in response to Russia’s behavior. This is precisely why I never assume that there is any method to the madness of his Twitter tirades. They are simply the rantings of someone with no impulse control.
The overall idea that this president is looking for deliverables to propose in his first meeting with Putin, while asking nothing in return, is remarkable. The two words that come to mind to describe it are (1) stupid and (2) guilty.
Donald J. Trump will replace Neville Chamberlain as the historical example of the policy of appeasement toward an enemy. We better hope Trump doesn’t give away more highly classified state secrets to the Russians, or even sign a secret pact to surrender the U.S. to his man-crush Vladimir Putin.
A competent strategist would find a way to at least appear neutral about Russia (if not a bit aggressive) in order to diminish the appearance of collusion. Trump isn’t even trying. That’s what makes him look guilty. During a time when we know that Russia mounted their most aggressive attempt to undermine our democracy, this president is considering giveaways to the guy who orchestrated it all. Why else would he do that unless Putin had something on him? I don’t know about you, but I can’t come up with any other justification.
If Trump set out to prove himself guilty, I can’t imagine how he could do a better job than this.
Russia is engaged in a cyber war against the United States and our NATO allies, and President Trump is planning to engage in appeasment of the Russians, and taking no action to secure U.S. elections from further Russian cyber attacks. He is derelict in his duty to defend the country.