President Trump has spent the majority of this week defending his close relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin and doing everything he can to excuse the Russian hacking campaign and electoral interference in the 2016 election — and his behavior is inspiring some of the fiercest blowback we’ve seen from his fellow Republicans in a long while.
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Former CIA agent and current Republican congressman Will Hurd of Texas’ 23rd district took to the op-ed page of the New York Times to bravely say what no Republican has yet dared to admit: that Trump is being manipulated by Vladimir Putin, and we need to do something about it.
Hurd certainly knows what he’s talking about, having watched Russian intelligence agents manipulate people for nine years during his time working as an undercover CIA agent. Hurd writes:
Over the course of my career as an undercover officer in the C.I.A., I saw Russian intelligence manipulate many people. I never thought I would see the day when an American president would be one of them.
By playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad.
Our intelligence community has concluded with high confidence that President Putin personally ordered his security services to undertake an influence campaign aimed at undermining confidence in American democracy to sow chaos in our electoral system. Russia’s efforts to hack political organizations and state election boards are well documented, as are the Russian disinformation campaigns on social media platforms.
Accusing the president of actively participating in Russian efforts to interfere in our election is just about the closest any sitting Republican has come to accusing the president of treason, and represents a sharp escalation in the rhetoric that members of the president’s party are willing to use against him.
Hurd then sounds the alarm about continued Russian efforts to wage cyberwarfare against the United States, which Microsoft announced yesterday have already begun but the President denies is even a possibility.
“Moreover, the threat of Russian meddling in United States elections is not behind us. Just last week, Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, cautioned that “the warning lights are blinking red” that Russia and other adversaries will undertake further cyberattacks on our digital infrastructure. This includes many of the energy companies in my home district in South and West Texas.”
Hurd goes on to propose some solutions that Congress can take to help deal with this threat, though he pointedly does not mention President Trump or any opposition he might pose to his endeavors:
“Additionally, Congress must act to give the men and women of our intelligence agencies the tools they need to confront Moscow and prevent this from happening in the future. We can start by sending the Intelligence Authorization Act to the president’s desk, which authorizes funding to support critical national security programs across the intelligence community. It also requires regular public reports on foreign threats to federal election campaigns before those elections take place, mandatory notification to Congress within 14 days after a determination has been made with moderate or high confidence that a foreign cyberintrusion or active measures campaign to influence a federal election has taken place, and reports to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on past and continuing Russian influence campaigns.”
Hurd calls upon his Republican colleagues to finally start taking responsibility for the monster they have created and to defend their nation from the pernicious tentacles of Russian espionage.
As a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, I strongly believe in the importance of Congress’s oversight responsibilities and will work with my colleagues to ensure that the administration is taking the Russian threat seriously.
In this dangerous geopolitical environment, we must be both vigilant and strong in responding to foreign threats. The challenges posed by Russia are no different, and I hope the president shares my conviction that American strength, not weakness, is the best way to preserve a secure world in the face of adversaries like Russia.
It appears that far too many Republicans are willing to sit back and allow the Russians to interfere in our elections once again, smugly comfortable in the knowledge that they will be benefitting from the manipulation and entirely willing to watch our democracy unravel if it will cement their stranglehold on power in the United States.
Hurd’s past criticism of the president’s ridiculous border wall as a “third-century solution for a twenty-first-century problem” stood out at the time for being one of the few voices of reason among the cacophony of extremism that dominates modern Republican politics; it’s gratifying to see him once again take a stand for the right thing and put his country above his party.