Las Vegas Sun

July 19, 2019

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Sun editorial:

Everyone except for Trump seems to agree: Russia is a threat to democracy

Considering what his boss has said about Russian interference in U.S. elections, it was remarkable to hear John Bolton’s take on the subject this past weekend.

During an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” the national security adviser said Russia was indeed meddling, as were other nations.

“Well, I can say definitively that it’s a sufficient national security concern about Chinese meddling, Iranian meddling and North Korean meddling that we’re taking steps to try and prevent it,” Bolton said. “So all four of these countries, really.”

That bears repeating: Bolton said “all four” countries were involved, Russia included.

Which once again begs the question, why won’t Trump get on board with his own administration over the Russian threat?

Trump’s “would/wouldn’t” blunder aside, he’s repeatedly undermined his administration through comments and actions on Russia.

A case in point came early this month when four chiefs of intelligence and security agencies made a joint appearance to announce that Russian attempts to interfere in the 2018 elections were real and ongoing. Those present were Bolton, FBI Director Chris Wray, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone.

But who wasn’t there? Trump, whose no-show deprived the intelligence officials of the presidential endorsement that his appearance would have afforded them.

That’s mystifying, given the stark tone of the remarks that day.

“Our focus here today is simply to tell the American people we acknowledge the threat,” Coats said. “It is real. It is continuing. And we’re doing everything we can to have a legitimate election that the American people can have trust in.

“In addition to that, it goes beyond the elections. It goes to Russia’s intent to undermine our democratic values, drive a wedge between our allies, and do a number of other nefarious things.”

This was Coats identifying the Russians as the enemy of the American people. Period. With his comments Sunday, Bolton said the same thing.

Yet Trump continues to downplay and at times even counter that message. Whether he’s saying “No,” in response to a question about whether the threat still exists (later claiming he was indicating he wouldn’t take further questions) or saying the U.S. was partly responsible (as he stated in Helsinki), Trump has repeatedly refused to call out Russia.

This is a president who touts his “hit back twice as hard” mindset, yet he offers nothing but verbal love pats to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Does Russia have blackmail material on Trump? Is it Trump showing his weakness for strongman-type leaders, as he’s done with other dictators? Is it a manifestation of Trump’s narcissistic refusal to admit that he lost the popular vote, by trying to play down the legitimacy of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation?

Nobody but Trump seems to know, but the disconnect between Trump and his team on the Russian threat grows more disconcerting every time Bolton or another senior administrator says what Trump won’t acknowledge — that Russia is an enemy force.

No question, the intelligence leaders are dead, solid correct on this one. The Department of Homeland Security said infiltrators managed to hack into a handful of state voting systems during 2016, and some remain highly vulnerable, particularly those without paper-ballot backups. To its credit, Nevada adopted the redundant systems after 2016.

Meanwhile, a Senate Intelligence Committee report said Russia had been building operations to disrupt U.S. elections since at least 2014 and had committed cyberattacks on elections elsewhere.

Clearly, this is a danger to Americans. The president should be leading the voices condemning Russia.

Instead, Trump demures and does things like direct his staff to invite Putin to the White House, even though Putin is attacking our democracy.

An excerpt from former FBI Director James Comey’s memoir, “A Higher Loyalty,” offers chilling context about Trump’s behavior. Comey said when he and other members of the intelligence community notified the Trump team about the attack during a January 2017 meeting at Trump Tower, there were “no questions about what the future Russian threat might be.”

Instead, Comey said, the team immediately held a strategy session “about how they could spin what we’d just told them.”

Since then, top members of the Trump administration have treated the threat with the urgency it deserves.

But simply put, we have a cowardly president who won’t confront America’s chief adversary. Lawmakers should be taking strong action to prevent Russian aggression and find out why Trump grovels before Putin.