A powerful new report commissioned by the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee slams President Trump for failing to offer a strategic plan to safeguard the U.S. and its European allies from Russian meddling in elections aimed at hurting the world’s leading democracies since 2016.
The revelatory report was released today by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) – without any Republican support – and details were first published by the Associated Press.
“Never before has a U.S. president so clearly ignored such a grave and growing threat to U.S. national security,” warns the 200-page report.
The report is based on public sources and Senate staff investigations and interviews all over the globe look at the U.S. and how Russians have tried to interfere in the elections in at least 19 European nations.
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Sen Ben Cardin D-Md, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s ranking member, details Vladimir Putin’s nearly two decades-long assault on democratic institutions, universal values, and the rule of law across Europe and in his own country.
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The report is said to foreshadow what the Senate investigation into the Russian interference in the election and the Trump campaign’s collusion with Moscow that may eventually come out sometime in the future unless Trump and Republicans can kill it.
Cardin said he commissioned his report to show the scope of efforts by Russian President Vladimir Putin to undermine democracy.
“We knew after the 2016 elections that we were vulnerable,” said Cardin, “but the 2016 elections were just a small part of Russia’s overall design, Mr. Putin’s design to try to compromise democratic institutions.”
Cardin spoke today as the report was released during an event at The German Marshall Fund of the United States, a think tank in Washington, D.C. that focuses on European and North American cooperation.
Unlike Trump who naively has said he believes Putin when he says Russia did not interfere in the elections, Cardin lays it out, calling Moscow’s actions a “relentless assault to undermine democracy and the rule of law in Europe and the United States.”
Cardin made it clear he feels Trump has failed in his duty to identify Russian aggression and to make it a national rallying point.
Cardin called for a ‘stronger congressional voice” to support democracies and to fund efforts to protect them from this kind of foreign interference.
In the report, there is a call for bipartisan efforts to stop Russian interference in the U.S. and to aid Europea allies in their efforts to counter Russia’s illegal aggression.
The report, according to the AP, “sketches a bleak portrait of European nations besieged by Russian encroachment. It cites years of cyber attacks, disinformation, clandestine social media operations, financing of fringe political groups, corruption and in the extreme assassination attempts and military operations that destabilize fledgling democratic governments in the Ukraine and Georgia.”
The report calls what Russia is doing an “asymmetric assault on democracy.”
Investigators spoke to officials in many of the affected countries targeted by Russian-sponsored hackers, internet trolls and the financing of extremist groups, including the U.K., France, and Germany.
While blasting the U.S. for its inaction, the report praises efforts by those nations and smaller European counties including Finland and Estonia for a quick, effective response.
Cardin’s investigators were told by Finnish officials that they increased their anti-disinformation efforts after discovering Russia was using Twitter to spread “misinformation and fringe viewpoints” leading up to their 2015 elections.
That is the same thing that happened in the U.S. in 2016, but there was no quick or effective American response then, and little more since Trump took office.
The report calls for even more aggressive financial sanctions against Russia and putting pressure on social media companies to be more transparent about Russian political messaging.
It also calls on the Trump administration to use the existing State Department Global Engagement Center, which under the current administration has been hobbled by a lack of funding, a lack of urgency and “self-imposed constraints” under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
The Center was created under President Obama and had its duties expanded by Congressional bipartisan legislation last year designed to expand its activities.
The report also calls on Trump to set up an interagency “fusion cell” focused on Russian interference that is modeled after the National Counterterrorism Center created after the 9/11 attacks.
The report calls on Trump to hold an annual global summit similar to those held to discuss ways to combat terrorist and extremists, both homegrown and foreign.
It says there should be rapid response teams that can jump in as needed to defend allies after a cyber attack, and there should be an international treaty on the use of cyber tools in peacetime.
While all of this makes a lot of sense, it is hard to forsee Trump taking any of these actions. It was just this past year that long after it was clear what the Russians are doing, Trump met with Putin and announced that he believed the Russian leader when he said: “he didn’t meddle.”
“I really believe that when he tells me that,” said Trump at the time, “he means it.”
So it is impossible not to wonder if Trump is the opposite of a genius; whether he is naive, a secret Russian sympathizer, an agent – or maybe he is being blackmailed, as the Steele dossier suggested.
No matter what, it is a national tragedy and a global disaster that the U.S. is not a leader in efforts to support democracies and counter the insidious actions of the Russians, who seem to take joy in undermining countries that have free elections and a free media.
This should be a wake up call to Trump, but since that is unlikely, it needs to alert the American public of how badly the president is serving them, and bring new calls for action and hopefully, a surge of voters in November who wan clear out the obstructionists and save our democracy before Putin spreads more of his political poison.