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.”

Feds Debunk Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory ‘Pakistani Mystery Man’ Leaked DNC Emails

Fox News hosts and Trump pushed the idea that an IT staffer for House Democrats took data from Democrats. Trump’s Justice Department says it’s not true.

Awan’s guilty plea is a letdown for conservatives, who had become convinced that Awan was involved in something much more nefarious than bank fraud.

.. Led by reporting from the Daily Caller News Foundation, Republicans suspected that Awan was somehow involved in data leaks to either Russia or Pakistan. In July 2017, Fox News’s Geraldo Rivera and Sean Hannity speculated that Awan had used his access to Democratic servers to leak the emails from Democratic National Committee leader Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz that were published by WikiLeaks in 2016.

..  Far from spying, the Washington Post reported investigators “instead found that the workers were using one congressional server as if it were their home computer, storing personal information such as children’s homework and family photos,” according to an official.

.. Nevertheless, Daily Caller News Foundation reporter Luke Rosiak said that the Awan story was proof that “Congress was hacked.”

“It basically destroys that Russian narrative just because it shows that they [Democrats] didn’t actually care about cyber-security and they haven’t responded to this,” Rosiak said in April on Fox Business.

.. That conspiracy appeals to President Trump’s supporters because, like the rival conspiracy that the emails were leaked by murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich, it would theoretically mean that Russian hackers weren’t behind the email hacks after all.

.. after interviews with 40 witnesses and reviews of the House Democratic Caucus’s server they came up empty.

Trump Shows the World He’s Putin’s Lackey

Maybe the president is exactly as compromised as he looks.

.. No matter how low your expectations for the summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin on Monday, it was hard not to be staggered by the American president’s slavish and toadying performance.
.. Dan Coats, gave a speech about America’s vulnerability to cyberattacks, particularly from Russia. “I’m here to say, the warning lights are blinking red again,” he said, comparing the threat to the one that preceded Sept. 11.
.. Trump sided with the Russian president against American intelligence agencies while spewing lies and conspiracy theories. “He just said it’s not Russia,” he said of Putin’s denials. “I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be.” Continuing in a free-associative fugue, he asked, “What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the D.N.C.?” referring to a debunked right-wing claim about a former Democratic I.T. staffer.
.. Perhaps the most sinister part of the news conference was Trump’s seeming openness to a deal in which F.B.I. investigators could question people in Russia in exchange for letting Russians question Putin critics in America.
.. Putin referred specifically to associates of his arch-nemesis Bill Browder, a businessman (and British citizen) who has succeeded in getting seven countries, including the United States, to pass laws punishing Russian oligarchs suspected of corruption. (The Russians who met with members of the Trump campaign at Trump Tower in June 2016 wanted to discuss this law, the Magnitsky Act.)
.. “I’ve known for a long time that Putin has been trying to use every trick in the book to get me arrested in a foreign country and extradited back to Russia,” Browder told me after the news conference. It’s chilling that Trump appeared willing to help Putin with his vendetta.
.. John McCain, Republican of Arizona, described it as “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” Even some Trump partisans were aghast. Newt Gingrich decried it as the “most serious mistake” of Trump’s presidency.
.. Trump’s behavior on Monday recalled his outburst at Trump Tower after the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, when he insisted there were “very fine people” among the racist demonstrators.
.. everything Trump said was in keeping with things he’d said before. The shocking part was his frankness.
.. it forced, if just for a moment, a collective apprehension of just what a repulsive abomination this presidency is.
.. It’s always been obvious that Trump does not hold Russia’s hacking of the 2016 election, which he publicly encouraged and gleefully benefited from, against Putin.
.. None of us yet know the exact contours of Trump’s relationship with Russia, whether Putin is
  • his handler,
  • his co-conspirator
  • or just his hero.

But it’s clear that Trump is willing to sell out American democracy for personal gain.

.. on July 27, 2016, he publicly called for Russia to find Clinton’s emails, and, thanks to Friday’s indictments, we now know Russia started trying to hack the domain used by her personal office that very day.

.. Trump’s collusion with Russia has always been out in the open, daring us to recognize what’s in front of our faces.

.. Some doubt that Trump is a Russian puppet precisely because his fealty to Putin is so blatant and undisguised.

.. Mariia Butina

.. who worked for the Russian politician and alleged organized crime figure Alexander Torshin, presented herself as a Russian gun rights activist, and spent years cultivating links to the National Rifle Association.

.. She became a fixture in some pro-Trump circles and was reportedly especially close to a conservative operative named Paul Erickson.

.. hosting a birthday costume party that was attended by Trump aides.

“She dressed as Russian Empress Alexandra while Erickson was dressed as Rasputin,”

.. At the party, Butina reportedly boasted that she’d helped the Trump campaign communicate with Russia. If there was a reason to doubt that she was a Russian spy, it was only that one would expect a Russian spy to be subtler.

.. This weekend, Butina was arrested in Washington, and on Monday a criminal complaint against her for acting as a Russian agent was unsealed. She was accused of conspiracy to “exploit personal connections with U.S. persons having influence in American politics in an effort to advance the interests of the Russian Federation.”

.. Sometimes things are exactly as bad as they appear.