Sunday, June 18, 2017 | 2 a.m.
In light of the recent revelation that Russia’s breach of U.S. voting systems before Donald Trump’s election was far more extensive than originally reported, Trump’s refusal to embrace sanctions against Russia stinks worse than ever.
Among the chilling details that have been revealed about Russia’s covert activities, hackers attacked systems in 39 states and, in Illinois, went so far as to attempt to delete or alter voter data. Targets included a campaign finance database and software for poll workers.
“The scope and sophistication so concerned Obama administration officials that they took an unprecedented step — complaining directly to Moscow over a modern-day ‘red phone,’” Bloomberg reported. In the back-channel communication, the White House offered documentation of Russia’s meddling and warned that “the attacks risked setting off a broader conflict.” But the attacks continued, as indicated in a leaked NSA document that said hackers tried gaining control of more than 100 election officials’ computers shortly before Election Day.
The Obama administration considered revealing the attacks but decided against it in order not to alarm voters about the integrity of the system, Bloomberg reported.
Enter Trump, and the situation becomes even more alarming. Taken in combination with his resistance to sanctions, his praise of Vladimir Putin and his generally chummy attitude toward Russia — as witnessed when he shared intelligence with Russian diplomats in May — it offers the strongest indication yet that he’s been corrupted by the Russian government,
Think about it. Why would a president not press for sanctions against a country working to disrupt its elections?
The official reason, as stated by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the Senate, is that the administration wanted more time to work on diplomatic relations with Russia. Tillerson indicated he wanted to keep the possibility of sanctions on the table as a leveraging tool.
But if hacking into the nation’s voting system — and then ignoring a demand to knock it off — isn’t enough to trigger sanctions, what is?
Even more chilling, U.S. researchers recently reported that Russia had developed a cyberweapon with the potential to knock out electric transmission and distribution systems. In fact, the malware already has been used to disrupt a system in Ukraine, and the researchers said it could be modified to target U.S. systems.
Russia has become a cyberterrorist and appears to have declared a global war, attacking systems not only in the U.S. but countries around the globe. And considering how far Russia has intruded into American systems, think of the damage it could do in countries that are less technologically sophisticated.
To its credit, the Senate waved off Tillerson and instead passed a bill Thursday to impose new sanctions against Russia while reducing Trump’s ability to roll them back.
It was a rebuke to Trump, but now GOP lawmakers need to go further. They need to stop sitting on their heels and supporting Trump, who wants to appease the Russians even as they attack the world in cyberspace. They need to ensure that investigations into the Trump team’s ties to Russia are aggressive, and they need to stop making excuses for his tantrums and missteps.
Increasingly, it’s becoming evident that the Republicans want to keep Trump in office to push through their savage agenda of cuts to health care to fund tax breaks for the wealthy, rollbacks of environmental protections and so forth.
But history won’t be kind to these cowardly, self-interested officeholders.