Editorial, Feb. 24, 2018: Trump Refuses to Protect U.S. Elections from Russian Interference

Trump and Putin (Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images)

As with all U.S. presidents, Trump took an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” The Preamble to the Constitution states that its purpose is to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity….”

There is nothing more essential to democracy than fair and free elections. That includes preventing foreign governments from interfering in those elections.

Although Trump has repeatedly denied it, there is extensive evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. One can argue whether that interference had a meaningful impact, but the existence of massive attempts by Russia to interfere cannot reasonably be denied.

In case there was any doubt, last week Special Counsel Robert Mueller brought indictments against 13 Russians and three Russian companies for violating U.S. criminal law by interfering in the 2016 election. Trump still refuses to condemn the Russians over their involvement. The week before those indictments, U.S. intelligence chiefs told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia again will be trying to affect U.S. elections in 2018. Despite this, Trump has taken no action to guard against Russian interference.

Trump could warn Russia there will be retaliation if Russia tries to intervene in U.S. elections, direct U.S. intelligence agencies to combat Russian interference, and instruct state and county election officials to secure their voting systems. He refuses.

One question is why. It could be that Trump believes acknowledging Russian activity calls into question his election as President. Yet Trump says that he and his campaign advisors did not collude with the Russians or their agents in the 2016 election. If true, his oath of office takes priority over any personal embarrassment.

But earlier this month Trump refused to impose sanctions against Russia that were approved by almost unanimous votes in both houses of Congress. Given that, one has to believe that either Trump’s staff (or Trump himself) colluded with the Russians in the 2016 election — or that Russia has compromising information regarding Trump that would ruin him if released, such as his past business dealings with the Russians and others.

Of course, it is also entirely possible that Trump welcomes Russian interference in the 2018 elections. He knows that 2018 may well be a wave election in favor of the Democrats. He has said that if the Democrats win the House they will impeach him, which is entirely possible. Someone close to the White House said that Trump hopes to exploit “unexpected cultural flashpoints” for the 2018 elections. That is precisely part of what the Russians did in the 2016 election.

Tragically, we cannot expect that Trump can be pressured into action regarding the Russians and the 2018 elections, even though failure to act may constitute treason. Fortunately, we know vastly more now about what the Russian did in 2016. Regardless of Trump inaction, U.S. intelligence sources will defend against and disrupt Russian interference. The media will be watching much more closely this time. State and county election officials know now to strengthen their systems and be on guard. Even Facebook has grudgingly taken steps to limit exploitation.

Even without Trump’s advocacy, Americans in a variety of positions will work to thwart the Russians. These efforts would be stronger, though, with the President’s active support. His oath of office demands he provide it.

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