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Bill Straub: McConnell turning a blind eye to Russian interference in elections goes beyond party loyalty


His report passed on charging President Extremely Stable Genius with illicitly coordinating with Russia on the 2020 presidential election and left the question of obstruction of justice to other authorities, but Robert Mueller, the special counsel responsible for diving into the whole sordid mess, made one thing perfectly clear – Russia “launched a concerted attack on our political system’’ in the last presidential election and a repeat performance remains within the realm of possibilities next year.

“…there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election,’’ Mueller said in his farewell address.

It seems obvious, given the background of the 2016 election, that the American voting system is vulnerable to corrupt outside influences. The Mueller probe specifically determined that Russia interfered in the electoral process “in sweeping and systematic fashion,’’ thus helping to land ESG in the White House.

Mueller publicly asserted that the incursion into the nation’s balloting “deserves the attention of every American”

Apparently Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch’’ McConnell, of Louisville, is either not among “every American’’ or he somehow never received Mueller’s message. It’s been three months since the release of the special counsel’s report and the Senate, under McConnell’s leadership, has assiduously refused to take steps necessary to protect the American electoral system from foreign influences.

McConnell has shown no interest in safeguarding the voting process, perhaps because turning a blind eye to overt Russian interference has thus far worked in the GOP’s favor, further bolstering the perception that ol’ Root-‘n-Branch places party before country.

To briefly recap, the Mueller report concluded that Russian interference in the 2016 election that deposited ESG in the Oval Office was “sweeping and systematic’’ and performed in violation of U.S. criminal statutes.

It involved a social media campaign by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian on-line influence peddler that supported the ESG campaign and attacked his Democratic opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The probe also determined that Russian military intelligence engaged in computer hacking that resulted in the release of stolen materials detrimental to the Clinton campaign and various Democratic Party organizations.

The ESG campaign welcomed Moscow’s assistance but the Mueller investigation proved unable to uncover evidence sufficient to establish the campaign “coordinated or conspired with the Russian government in its election-interference activities.”

Fair enough.

But the fact remains that Russia involved itself in the election of the president of the United States.

As Mueller said in his brief statement to the press in May, “Russian intelligence officers who were part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system’’ utilizing “sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign.’’

Given that, Congress might want to consider ways to see to it that foreign interference in American elections doesn’t reoccur. But McConnell, who calls the shots in the upper chamber, has exhibited no interest in tackling the issue.

Sen. McConnell

Ol’ Root-‘n-Branch has made it clear he will not bring any election security bills up for a vote. In so doing, McConnell and the Republican majority are, in the words of Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, of New York, “abdicating their responsibilities to our grand democracy.”

“The Republican Senate, Leader McConnell just stands there and twiddles their thumbs and almost says, ‘Come on Putin, let it happen,’” Schumer said.

McConnell’s intent to block election security measures actually became clear last year when a committee hearing on the Secure Elections Act was postponed at the last minute and never rescheduled.

That bipartisan measure, sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-MO, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, who, it should be noted, is seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, established protocols for sharing information between state officials and the Department of Homeland Security regarding cyber threats to elections.

It further required the states to establish voting systems with back-up paper ballots and develop election cybersecurity standards and post-election audits.

Then last month, during a meeting of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, Blunt, the chairman, told panel members that McConnell has decided the upper chamber will not consider any of several election security bills pending.

“I don’t see any likelihood that those bills would get to the floor if we marked them up,” Blunt said. “I think the majority leader just is of the view that this debate reaches no conclusion.”

McConnell’s recalcitrance certainly raises the question of why anyone would want to stand in the way of making American elections more secure and free of foreign influence.

Since ol’ Mitch has had very little to say on the subject, rendering a definitive answer is difficult. His fallback position seems to center on the lack of problems encountered in the 2018 elections, which, of course, was not a presidential election year.

It’s difficult to fathom, even though the answer centers on Addison Mitchell McConnell, why anyone would be determinedly opposed to bracing the nation’s electoral system, even overdoing it, given the incidents of 2016. The elections continue to be vulnerable to all sorts of attacks, cyber and otherwise.

Mueller isn’t alone in blasting the warning — national security officials are also raising a red flag that Russian involvement remains a serious threat and additi0on al steps are required.

Thus far, McConnell essentially has played down the threat, telling reporters, “I do think the missing story that very few of you have written about is the absence of problems in the 2018 election.’’

That, of course, is not really an answer, ducking as it does the potential problems in the presidential election year of 2020. It probably has more to do with opposition from ESG, who remains a bit touchy over claims that the only reason he resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – after receiving about 3 million votes less than Clinton – can be attributed to Russian interference in the outcome.

McConnell has obediently served as ESG’s enabler on a plethora of issues and he’s appears to be serving as the lead blocker once again.

Ol’ Root-‘n-Branch is also said to be reluctant about the federal government becoming too involved in state election efforts – Republicans, after all, control the elections apparatus in a majority of the 50 states. Any doctoring from Washington DC might depress his desired outcomes.

McConnell over the past few years has become notorious for placing the interests of his party over country but turning the keys of the kingdom over to Vladimir Putin?

NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.


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