“Never before has a U.S. president so clearly ignored such a grave and growing threat to U.S. national security.”

Following up on yesterday’s release of the Fusion GPS testimony by “sneaky” Diane Feinstein, the Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by Ben Cardin, today issued a minority report titled, “Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for U.S. National Security.” While, as you might imagine, the report gets into quite a bit of depth on the threat posed by Putin, it also doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to assigning blame for the inaction we’ve seen on the part of the current administration when it comes to addressing this threat. “Never before has a U.S. president so clearly ignored such a grave and growing threat to U.S. national security,” the report warns. Here, to give you a sense of the report, which I’ve just started reading, are two very short excerpts. [The entire report can be downloaded here.]

The report includes over 30 recommendations for the United States and its allies. They include the following:

First, Mr. Trump must demonstrate presidential leadership by declaring it is U.S. policy to deter all forms of Russian hybrid threats and begin to mobilize our government in defense. He should establish a high-level inter-agency fusion cell, modeled on the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), to coordinate all elements of U.S. policy and programming in response to the Kremlin’s malign influence operations.

Second, the U.S. government should provide assistance, in concert with allies in Europe, to build democratic institutions within those European and Eurasian states most vulnerable to Russian government interference. As part of this effort, the President should convene an annual global summit on hybrid threats, modeled on the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL or the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) summits. To reinforce these efforts, members in the U.S. Congress have a clear responsibility to show U.S. leadership on values by making democracy and human rights a central part of their agendas. They should conduct committee hearings and use other platforms and opportunities to publicly advance these issues.

Third, the United States and our allies should expose and freeze Kremlin-linked dirty money. The U.S. Treasury Department should make public any intelligence related to Mr. Putin’s personal corruption and wealth stored abroad, and take steps with our European allies to cut off Mr. Putin and his inner circle from the international financial system.

Fourth, the U.S. government should designate countries that employ malign influence operations to assault democracies as State Hybrid Threat Actors and subject them to a preemptive, escalatory sanctions regime that would be applied whenever the state uses asymmetric weapons like cyberattacks to interfere with a democratic election or disrupt a country’s critical infrastructure. The U.S. government should also produce yearly public reports that detail the Russian government’s malign influence operations in the U.S. and around the world.

Fifth, the U.S. government and NATO should lead a coalition of countries committed to mutual defense against cyberattacks, to include the establishment of rapid reaction teams to defend allies under attack. The U.S. government should also call a special meeting of the NATO heads of state to review the extent of Russian government-sponsored cyberattacks among member states and develop formal guidelines on how the Alliance will consider such attacks in the context of NATO’s Article 5 collective defense provision.

Finally, U.S. and European governments should mandate that social media companies make public the sources of funding for political advertisements, along the same lines as TV channels and print media. Social media companies should conduct comprehensive audits on how their platforms may have been used by Kremlin-linked entities to influence elections occurring over the past several years, and should establish civil society advisory councils to provide input and warnings about emerging disinformation trends and government suppression. In addition, they should work with philanthropies, governments, and civil society to promote media literacy and reduce the presence of disinformation on their platforms.

Putting myself in Trump’s shoes, I can see how it might be difficult for him to accept the clear and present danger we’re facing, as doing so could be seen as an admission that he only ascended to the presidency with the help of Vladimir Putin. Trump is, if nothing else, a very insecure man, and it’s this insecurity that motivates almost every action he takes. We saw that when, after his inauguration, he said that he’d drawn a larger crowd than Obama, in spite of the evidence to the contrary. And we saw it when he suggested that, had it not been for the ballots cast by Mexicans crossing the border to illegally vote for Clinton, he would have also won the popular vote. Any other person would have contented himself with the fact that he’d won the presidency, and shut up about crowd sizes and the popular vote, but Trump, as a pathological narcissist with an acute inferiority complex, couldn’t help himself. And, because of this, I can’t see him lending any credibility to idea that Putin interfered in our election, even if what Trump says is true, and there was absolutely no collusion. It’s just not in his nature to do anything that might, even for a second, call his magnificence into question, even if the future of the free world were at stake. And that’s why, with every intelligence agency in the United States in agreement as to what Putin did in 2016, Trump has still not called a single cabinet meeting to discuss the ongoing threat and how we respond. [Of course, it may also be true that Trump is bingeing blackmailed by the Russians, but, for the purposes of this conversation, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.] Hopefully, though, if we can just make it to 2018, and win in spite of both Trump and Putin, we can start to put some of these safeguards, like the ones outlined above, in place, restoring faith once again in our electoral system and democratic institutions. The important thing now, I think, is that people like Cardin are beginning to lay the groundwork for a legislative agenda in 2018. It’s not enough to just hate Trump, we have to also be for something, and reforms noted above, especially when coupled with the decriminalization of marijuana, the broadening of health care access, and a ‘real’ middle class tax cut, are a great start.

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  1. Meta
    Posted January 11, 2018 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Greg Sargent’s piece in the Washington Post today: “The great Republican abdication”

    This morning, Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.) — the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee — put out a report that offers a remarkable indictment of President Trump’s abdication of his responsibility to protect and defend our free and fair elections.

    Republicans on the committee didn’t sign on to the report. This makes it more likely that it will be seen as a partisan document. Indeed, the desire to make that happen was likely the whole reason Republicans didn’t sign on to it.

    But here’s the thing: We already know from independent reporting that the basic story told in the report is accurate and true.

    The report offers an extensive look at what it calls Vladimir Putin’s “asymmetric assault on democracy” in multiple countries, and its “implications for U.S. national security.” For our purposes, what is notable is the report’s criticism of Trump’s failure to take steps to fortify our elections against future Russian attacks, which is pointed and detailed:

    “Despite the clear assaults on our democracy and our allies in Europe, the U.S. government still does not have a coherent, comprehensive, and coordinated approach to the Kremlin’s malign influence operations, either abroad or at home. … the lack of presidential leadership in addressing the threat Putin poses has hampered a strong U.S. response. …

    While many mid-level and some senior-level officials throughout the State Department and U.S. government are cognizant of the threat posed by Mr. Putin’s asymmetric arsenal, the U.S. President continues to deny that any such threat exists, creating a leadership vacuum in our own government and among our European partners and allies.”

    The report concludes that Trump “has been negligent in acknowledging and responding” to the threat of future election sabotage and calls on him to “launch a national response” to that threat. This includes establishing a coordinated inter-agency response to the threat; and presenting to Congress a “comprehensive national strategy” to deal with it.

    Read more:

  2. Eric Holder by proxy
    Posted January 11, 2018 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Russian meddling in our elections is a clear and present danger. Fact. Unbelievably no one taking action to prevent harm. Whatever you think of possible Trump involvement all must demand that White House and Congress act to strengthen our electoral systems against the threat-NOW

  3. Jean Henry
    Posted January 11, 2018 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Not sure where this is in process, but it’s something: https://www.lawfareblog.com/assessing-bipartisan-secure-elections-act

  4. Jean Henry
    Posted January 11, 2018 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Stalled in committee… Maybe the latest coverage and the FR committee report means it’s going to leave committee soon. https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1562/all-info/text

  5. Jean Henry
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    “CNN’s Kaitlin Collins told Wolf Blitzer on Thursday evening that White House staffers predict the comment would not be a problem and could help Trump resonate with his base.”


  6. Jean Henry
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 4:34 am | Permalink

    Oops. posted on wrong thread.

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