Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should explain why he blocked a bipartisan denunciation of Russian interference in our election before voters went to the polls.
Americans deserve to hear why McConnell did not trust them with the evidence that he and 11 other congressional leaders received in a confidential briefing in September.
The Washington Post reports that during that briefing McConnell “made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.”
McConnell also questioned the veracity of the intelligence, according to the Post, based on information from unidentified officials present at the September briefing.
On Monday, McConnell said he had the “highest confidence” in U.S. intelligence agencies.
But McConnell would not answer reporters’ questions about the Post’s account. He passed up the opportunity to deny that he torpedoed the administration’s request for a bipartisan pre-election statement calling out the Russians.
Now McConnell and other Republicans are saying the integrity of our elections is too important for partisanship. But before the election McConnell appears to have put partisan concerns first.
It’s impossible to say whether the outcome would have changed if Republicans and Democrats in Congress had united to publicly rebuke Russia.
There was plenty of information out about Russians hacking the Democratic National Committee and a couple of state election offices. The Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued an election security statement on Oct. 7 urging “state and local election officials to be vigilant and seek cybersecurity assistance from DHS.”
It also was clear that Russian President Vladimir Putin preferred Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton, whom he blamed for public protests against him in Russia.
Trump probably would have won and the Republicans probably would have held the Senate even if Congress had denounced Russia before the election.
Now McConnell’s pre-election move to obscure Russian interference will weaken Trump’s standing as president, an office he won by the thinnest of margins. McConnell’s action, which if anything helped Trump, also clouds Trump’s nomination of Elaine Chao, McConnell’s wife, as transportation secretary.
The CIA more recently concluded that the Russians’ goal was not just to disrupt the election but to elect Trump, a conclusion still questioned by the FBI.
Russian interference could yet disrupt the election, as some members of the Electoral College are demanding a briefing from U.S. intelligence agencies before confirming Trump as president Dec. 19.
It remains to be seen whether congressional committees controlled by Republicans will bring real enthusiasm to investigating the Russian interference and its effects, or make their findings public.
If they hope to restore the trust of a large segment of the American public, they will err on the side of transparency, which is what McConnell should have done before the election.