Homeland Security Secretary resigned after White House thwarted her efforts to prevent Russian hacking
By Miriam Raftery
April 26, 2019 (Washington D.C.) – Lost amid the hoopla over the Mueller report is this indisputable finding by the special counsel: “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” Yet to date, nothing has been done by the Trump administration to prevent Russian interference in the upcoming primaries and 2020 presidential race.
Muelller stopped short of finding any direct collusion involving President Donald Trump with Russia, though he did not exonerate the president on obstruction of justice. While the President has claimed victory and Congress continues to probe obstruction issues, perhaps the most critical and under-reported fact is this: the Trump administration is actively interfering with efforts by even its own cabinet officials and Congress to prevent Russia from hacking or otherwise interfering in the next presidential election in 2020.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, prior to resigning, grew increasingly concerned about Russia’s continued activity in the U.S. during the 2018 midterm elections including hacking, rerouting internet traffic, fomenting division on social media, and infiltrating power grids, the New York Times reports. She pledged to make preventing Russian interference in the 2020 presidential election one of her highest priorities to protect America’s national security.
But when Sec. Nielsen tried repeatedly to discuss her concerns with President Trump, his chief of staff Mick Mulvaney demanded that she not bring up the subject with the President because Trump viewed any discussion of Russian election interference as questioning his legitimacy as President.
Trump may well have benefitted from Russian meddling. Whether he would have won without it is anybody’s guess, and arguably former President Barack Obama’s administration should have reacted more forcefully to curb Russian hacks. But as current President, only Trump has the power to make it a federal priority now to stop Russia’s efforts – and Trump has shown zero interest in preventing Russian interference in future elections – and his administration has actively thwarted any such efforts.
Mueller’s report, specifically, found that “Russia’s two principal interference operations in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — the social media campaign and the hacking-and-dumping operations — violated U.S. criminal law.”
Among other things, Russian operatives hacked into at least 22 states’ election systems, accessing voter databases. Russia also hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC) office and the emails of Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton, then met with Trump campaign leaders offering to turn over the stolen emails obtained through the cyber-equivalent of the Watergate break-in during the Nixon era.
The New York Times reports, “Ms. Nielsen grew so frustrated with White House reluctance to convene top-level officials to come up with a governmentwide strategy that she twice pulled together her own meetings of cabinet secretaries and agency heads. They included top Justice Department, F.B.I. and intelligence officials to chart a path forward, many of whom later periodically issued public warnings about indicators that Russia was both looking for new ways to interfere and experimenting with techniques in Ukraine and Europe. One senior official described homeland security officials as adamant that the United States government needed to significantly step up its efforts to urge the American public and companies to block foreign influence campaigns. But the department was stymied by the White House’s refusal to discuss it…”
Congress, after the 2016 Russian cyber-attacks, allocated $60 million to prevent future Russian attacks. But then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took seven months to ask for the funds—and when he finally submitted his request, it was denied. As of last year, none of that $60 million had been spent, Newsweek reported.
President Trump refused to grant authority to top U.S. security officials to disrupt Russian election hacking, Admiral Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency and U.S. .Cyber Command, told Congress.
Despite the many credible warnings of future Russian cyberattacks, Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, eliminated the position of cybersecurity coordinator at the White House last year.
What power does Congress have to address these concerns?
Impeachment is one possible action given the obstruction of justice evidence laid out in Mueller’s report. Mueller did not recommend indictment because the Justice Dept. rules specifically prohibit indicting a president for any crime unless Congress has first impeached. But even if Democrats were to impeach, a conviction in a Republican controlled Senate appears unlikely, and Democrats may opt against a politically divisive action with the 2018 primaries drawing near.
In an editorial published in the New York Times, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Trump’s political rival in the 2016 election, noted that after 9/11, Congress established an independent, bipartisan commission to recommend steps to guard against future attacks. She calls for establishment of a similar commission to help protect the integrity of our elections now, because she concludes, “the President of the United States has proved himself unwilling to defend our nation from a clear and present danger.”
But even if such a commission were convened and issued strong recommendations, it is unclear how a recalcitrant President could be forced to implement those recommendations, leaving the U.S. once again vulnerable to hacking and other illegal electoral actions by Russia or potentially other foreign powers.