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Reality Check: Trump's reluctance to call out Russia for interference muddies US response

"Our democracy itself is in the crosshairs."So said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, fla...

Posted: Aug 3, 2018 4:02 PM
Updated: Aug 3, 2018 4:02 PM

"Our democracy itself is in the crosshairs."

So said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, flanked by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, the national security adviser John Bolton and FBI Director Christopher Wray at the White House Thursday, warning that Russia is actively attacking our elections.

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Now if only someone would tell President Donald Trump. Also missing in action: Congress and badly needed funding for election security.

Let's start with the President. We've all seen his odd, repeated reluctance to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin and his impulse to take Russia's word about election interference over our own intelligence agencies. Last month, Trump reluctantly said he accepted the intelligence community's conclusion on Russian meddling, though he added, "it could be other people also."

Thursday night, Trump again undercut his administration's carefully calibrated united front, dismissing the "Russian hoax" at a rally in Pennsylvania.

This disconnect is disturbing. And because tone comes from the top, it has muddied our nation's response to date.

Department of Homeland Security official Bob Kolasky, the assistant secretary for infrastructure protection, told The Daily Beast in March, "we have not seen any significant nefarious activity" ahead of the midterms. That statement now appears to be outdated.

We've seen the deep disconnect between the partisan House Intelligence Committee and the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee's reports of Russian involvement in our elections.

And earlier this week, we saw the Senate vote down a $250 million appropriation to fund state election security efforts. This vote was split along partisan lines with the exception of retiring Tennessee Republican -- and frequent Trump critic -- Bob Corker.

This despite the fact that the campaign of Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, was unsuccessfully targeted by Russians last year. As Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford told us on "New Day," "I would be shocked if there's a senator who hasn't been."

Election security is national security. It shouldn't be a partisan issue. But the President has been lagging rather than leading.

The former Trump White House official in charge of cybersecurity, Tom Bossert, recently told Yahoo News that he was concerned no one was "minding the store" when it came to cybersecurity in the White House.

Let's hope that the clear-eyed officials of the Trump administration, and not the Trump we saw at Thursday night's rally, rule the day. But that means moving beyond words -- it means letting special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation continue so we know the full extent of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

It means relentlessly combating the online disinformation campaigns that blur the lines between fact and fiction with confirmation bias, conspiracy theory clickbait.

And it means fully funding election security efforts across partisan lines and dramatically increasing sanctions on countries that interfere in our elections.

Our representatives should vote like our democracy depends on it. Because it does.

And that's your Reality Check.

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