Numerous U.S. intelligence officials testified before the Senate’s Intelligence and Armed Services Committees during the past month. They all agreed that Russians interfered in the 2016 election and are set to do it again this year and in 2020. They also conceded that President Trump had not given them authority or capability to counter these cyberattacks.
Outgoing chief of U.S. Cyber Command, Admiral Mike Rogers, voiced concern because our adversaries haven’t — in his words — “paid a price that’s sufficient to get them to change their behavior.” His successor, Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, testified during his Senate confirmation hearings along the same lines. General Nakasone gave his opinion on why our adversaries aren’t reluctant to cyberattack the United States: “I would say right now they do not think much will happen to them.” Later he added, “They don’t fear us.”
It is clear from this testimony that sanctions aren’t an adequate deterrent. The U.S. needs a robust offensive cyber deterrence to convince Russians, Iranians, Chinese and North Koreans that punishment for their warlike activities over the Internet will be swift and harsh. Trump is more interested in building an expensive, useless wall on our southern border.
But the foreign threats go way beyond our elections. Last Thursday Homeland Security and the FBI announced that Russians have their fingers on the switches of U.S. power plants, some nuclear. Our intelligence agencies have known about these intrusions for many months but it’s not clear the government has taken any steps to eliminate the threat. I have to wonder, could foreign hackers disable U.S. nuclear submarines and carriers? What about our missile sites and command centers?
Congress did pass a bipartisan law imposing strong sanctions on Russia last July, but Trump refused to impose them. Finally, he was forced to do something last week after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians and the power plant hacking was disclosed. But these sanctions basically followed Mueller’s indictment; they didn’t take the broader course against Russians that Congress envisioned.
Russian President Vladimir Putin piously denies culpability for election meddling but he does it with a smile. No doubt he’s thrilled that his government was able to affect the U.S. election and that he is given credit for this coup. It makes him look very strong while America looks helpless and weak. This U.S. vulnerability will not go unnoticed around the world, either by our friends or our adversaries.
On Friday retired four-star Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey tweeted: “Reluctantly I have concluded that President Trump is a serious threat to US national security. He is refusing to protect vital US interests from active Russian attacks. It is apparent that he is for some unknown reason under the sway of Mr. Putin.” I totally agree.
So, what are Republicans in Congress doing while Putin gloats over the mess he created? Well, let’s see. They are trying to discredit Mueller and the Russia investigation by calling for a second special counsel to investigate the FBI. The Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee terminated its investigation prematurely and declared there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Check out this article by Fox News political analyst Juan Williams entitled, “GOP has sold its soul on Russia.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee investigation continues but that too will likely be concluded without fully getting to the bottom of how Russia influenced the 2016 election and how the Trump campaign might have colluded with them. That leaves Mueller’s investigation as the only hope the American people have of getting to the truth.
On Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions terminated former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, just two days before he could retire with full benefits and a well-earned pension. Trump was quite pleased. He tweeted: “Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hardworking men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy.”.
In response to Trump, former CIA Director John Brennan tweeted what many of us would like to say to the president: “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America …. America will triumph over you.”
By firing McCabe, Sessions may have held off his termination for a few more months, which is probably good. Trump was emboldened by his firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and he is eager to fire Sessions, who is recused from affecting Mueller’s Russia investigation. If Trump can oust Sessions he will appoint a replacement who can fire Mueller or deflect the investigation away from Trump and his family. That would be a disaster for America.
It is clear to me that many Republicans in Congress believe that Trump is guilty of impeachable offenses. Why else would they take such extreme measures to protect him? And why would the GOP — the party that has always been a strong supporter of law enforcement — aggressively attack the FBI? Has Russian money coopted the Republican National Committee or some high-ranking GOP Congressmen?
The time is approaching when Republicans will have to make a choice. Will they back Trump or will they uphold their duty to this nation and the Constitution? I am not confident they will make the right decision.