Mitch McConnell, Too, Welcomes Russian Interference

Or at least he won’t let Congress do anything to stop it.

Why won’t Mitch McConnell protect our elections from outside interference?

His Republican colleagues in the Senate want to do something. That’s why some of the most conservative members of his caucus are working with Democrats to improve the nation’s election security.

One proposal, according to The New York Times, would “require internet companies like Facebook to disclose the purchasers of political ads.” Another, devised by Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, would “impose mandatory sanctions on anyone who attacks an American election.” Yet another, the brainchild of Senators James Lankford of Oklahoma and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, would “codify cyber information-sharing initiatives between federal intelligence services and state election officials.”

House Democrats have already introduced legislation to bolster election security and would most likely work with the Senate to put together a compromise proposal should a bill pass that chamber. But McConnell refuses to consider any legislation on election security during this congressional term. For the Senate majority leader, the problem has already been solved, and this rare show of bipartisan cooperation doesn’t matter. “I think the majority leader is of the view that this debate reaches no conclusion,” Roy Blunt of Missouri, a McConnell ally, said.

The easiest explanation for McConnell’s opposition to the various election security proposals is captured in one word: Trump. Only recently has the president acknowledged foreign interference in the 2016 election. “Russia has disappeared because I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected,” Trump said last month on Twitter, blasting Robert Mueller’s investigation. “It was a crime that didn’t exist.” Later, however, he returned to his usual position of denying any assistance or interference at all. “Russia did not get me elected,” he said.

The president’s endless denial makes sense: To acknowledge any election interference on his behalf is to undermine the legitimacy of his victory, even if the hacking and disinformation were not decisive.

McConnell works closely with the White House to put conservative judicial nominees on the federal bench. It’s his key priority. “I love the tax bill and a lot of the other things we did,” McConnell said in an interview last year. “But I think lifetime appointments — not only to the Supreme Court but to the circuit courts — are the way you have the longest-lasting impact on the country.” He needs a good relationship with the president. Why, then, would he give this legislation a chance to pass? Why antagonize an ally?

But McConnell’s relationship with Trump isn’t the only way to explain his opposition to these proposals. For the past two decades of his Senate career, McConnell has been a tireless opponent of openness, accessibility and transparency in elections. He stood against the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, praised the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United and, more recently, blasted Democrats for their push to expand access to the ballot. He’s driven by a simple calculation: that secure, open elections are elections that McConnell — and the Republican Party he leads in the Senate — are less likely to win.

McConnell’s career makes clear that he has few, if any, political and ideological convictions. As Alec MacGillis, a reporter for ProPublica, observes in “The Cynic: The Political Education of Mitch McConnell,” McConnell was reliably pro-choice until it became inconvenient and pro-union when it would get him votes. But his most revealing turnaround was on campaign finance.

As chairman of his county Republican Party in the 1970s, he backed aggressive campaign finance reform. He wanted “drastically” lower contribution limits, full donor disclosure, a ceiling on overall spending and public financing of elections. “Many qualified and ethical persons are either totally priced out of the election marketplace or will not submit themselves to questionable, or downright illicit, practices that may accompany the current electoral process,” he wrote in a 1973 op-ed for The Courier-Journal in Kentucky.

In 1990, as the junior senator from Kentucky, he introduced legislation to abolish political action committees. In 1993, he backed a ban on funds collected outside the contribution limits for individual candidates — what had come to be known as “soft money.” “Soft money should be banned,” McConnell wrote at the time. “All campaign spending should be on the top of the table where voters can see it.” By the end of the decade, however, McConnell would be a reliable foe of virtually every limit on the ability to raise and spend money in politics.

The reasons for his reversal were straightforward. At heart, McConnell is a partisan. When he thought campaign finance reform would harm Democrats or help him win higher office, he backed campaign finance reform. When he thought Democrats relied on soft money, he tried to ban soft money. But when those funds began to fill his campaign war chest, he changed his tune. By 1997, he had nothing but good things to say about soft money. “Soft money is just a euphemism for free speech,” he said. For McConnell, winning was the only thing that mattered, and anything it took to win was fair game.

Bolton acknowledges U.S. has taken action to thwart would-be election disrupters

The United States has been conducting “offensive cyber operations” to defend next week’s midterm elections, though it was “too soon to tell” whether they are having an effect, White House national security adviser John Bolton said Wednesday.

Though Bolton did not specify the operation’s nature, U.S. Cyber Command has begun signaling to Russian operatives that their identities are known — an implicit warning not to attempt to disrupt American politics. The Washington Post and other media reported on those developmentslast week.

The offensive cyber actions were aimed at “defending the integrity of our electoral process . . . and our adversaries [had] better know that and better understand that,” said Bolton, speaking in Washington at an event sponsored by the Alexander Hamilton Society.

.. Brett Bruen, a former National Security Council official who has worked on countering Russian disinformation, called signaling “a pretty ineffective” warning shot. “What we have seen over recent months have been largely superficial steps, mostly for domestic consumption, to be able to say that we are doing something,” he said.

Mueller Investigators Probe Roger Stone Conference Calls

Longtime Trump adviser spoke of WikiLeaks’ plans to release emails ahead of 2016 election

The Aug. 4, 2016, conference call marks one of Mr. Stone’s earliest known predictions that WikiLeaks would release more hacked emails before election day, beyond the ones published in July 2016. Hours before the call, Mr. Stone emailed an associate, saying, “I dined with my new pal Julian Assange last nite,” the Journal previously reported.

Four days later, in an appearance before the Southwest Broward Republican Organization, Mr. Stone made another prediction: “I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation, but there’s no telling what the October surprise may be,” he said.

On Aug. 21, 2016, Mr. Stone appeared to foreshadow trouble for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, whose emails would be dumped online by WikiLeaks in mid-October. “Trust me,” Mr. Stone tweeted, “it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel. [sic] #CrookedHillary.”

In an email, Mr. Stone told the Journal that his email about dining with Mr. Assange was a joke, and that his tweet about “Podesta’s time in the barrel” was in reference to the lobbying activities of Mr. Podesta and his brother Tony. Mr. Stone also said he “had no advance knowledge about the acquisition and publication of John Podesta’s e-mail.”