Two days before the recent French presidential election, one of the presidential candidates announced that his campaign had experienced a major intrusion by hackers. The interference in the French election is the latest in a pattern of illegal, disruptive activity by the Russian government. This incident proves two things: One is that Russia is a grave threat to the United States. The other is that President Trump not only is looking the other way, but actually may be helping the Russians.
On May 3, FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress and called Russia “the greatest threat [to the United States] of any nation on earth. ” Comey was referring to Russian interference in the American electoral process, i.e. hacking into the computers of political parties, candidates and prominent individuals during the 2016 elections. According to Comey, the hacking effort is not over; the Russians continue to break into computer systems of businesses, individuals and U.S. government agencies.
Comey also testified that he expected future interference from the Russians in other nations’ electoral processes. Not only were the French affected, so may be the British. United Kingdom officials fear Russian intelligence agencies will seek to disrupt their upcoming general election on June 8. Comey lamented: “I think one of the lessons that particularly the Russians may have drawn from this is that this works.”
It is no coincidence that Comey was abruptly fired by President Trump only a few days later. In explaining the firing, the president brought up the FBI’s investigation of Russian connections with the Trump campaign and the nexus of Russian interference, the Trump campaign, and perhaps even the president. Clearly, the Russia investigation was on Trump’s mind when he decided to fire the FBI director.
Whether the Russians caused Donald Trump to win the presidency is still an open question. The extent to which the Trump campaign may have collaborated with (or at least been aware of) Russian efforts is yet to be determined. But it is hard not to see the president’s action as damaging to the FBI’s attempt to uncover the truth. Now, it will be difficult to find executive agency officials who are willing to risk offending the president and losing a job.
The issue of what happened in last year’s presidential election, particularly given new interference in other nations’ elections, deserves an independent commission as well as a special prosecutor. No nation should be allowed to do what the Russians did in our presidential election and get away with it. Government officials should be united in seeking to uncover the truth. Yet the Trump administration is not interested.
Not only that, it appears that the president leaked classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during a meeting in the Oval Office last week. If this is true, this breach of security is indefensible. It means that, sadly, the president cannot be trusted with national secrets, which may be grounds for impeachment.
The president’s alleged action also demonstrates how little he appreciates what the Russian government is up to. Vladimir Putin is seeking to displace the president of the United States as the pre-eminent world leader. Earlier this week, Putin warned the Trump administration not to intimidate North Korea, even in the wake of a successful nuclear missile test that threatens Asian nations. Already, Putin has become the premier player in the Syrian conflict. Indeed, he is exercising diplomatic and military force across the globe.
Not only do we not have a president who understands that threat and seeks to do something about it, instead we have one who is willing to give classified information to Russia and let Putin get his way. For example, the administration is ready to abandon sanctions on Russia the Obama administration imposed for Russian aggression in annexing Crimea and invading Georgia.
Our current president is the most ill-suited leader to face Russian attempts to dominate the globe. I would like to hold out the hope that President Trump will realize what Russia is after and use American diplomatic and economic power (and the threat of military power) to blunt Russian aggression. But I have none.