McConnell wants to know why Obama wasn’t tougher on Russia

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is using the Trump administration’s summary of the Mueller report to accuse the Obama administration of being soft on Russia — challenging the Obama White House’s longstanding assertion that it was McConnell who hampered warnings about Russian election interference.

On the Senate floor Monday, the Kentucky Republican hailed Attorney General William Barr’s report on Mueller’s findings.

McConnell said Barr concluded Russia had carried out online disinformation campaigns and computer hacking efforts aimed at sowing discord and influencing the 2016 election, but the senator blamed the Obama administration for not doing more to counter those efforts.

“It is deeply disturbing that the Obama administration was apparently insufficiently prepared to anticipate and counter these Russian threats,” McConnell said in a Senate floor speech. “It was hardly a secret prior to November 2016 that Putin’s Russia was not and is not our friend. And yet, for years, the previous administration ignored, excused and failed to confront Putin’s malign activities, both at home and abroad.”

Both former vice president Joe Biden and Obama White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough have accused McConnell of looking to soft-pedal their warnings about Russia interference before the election.

Biden at a 2018 Council on Foreign Relations appearance said the senator refused to sign a bipartisan statement condemning the Kremlin’s role. McDonough told “Meet the Press” last year McConnell had “watered down” a statement.

McConnell’s office previously disputed both accounts, pointing to a letter signed by all four top congressional leaders in September 2016 and sent to the president of the National Association of State Election Directors, urging cybersecurity precautions in light of reports of attempted hacking. The letter, however, did not mention Russia.

Monday, McConnell said the investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election should not end. He said he expects the Senate Intelligence Committee to continue looking at the threat that foreign interference poses to the U.S.

“It’s good news that our law enforcement professionals know much more about Russia’s malevolent attempts to interfere in the American election and it’s good news that we can conclusively set aside the notion that the president and his team had somehow participated in those attacks on our democracy,” McConnell said., referring to President Donald Trump

McConnell, who soon after the report was released Sunday offered conciliatory remarks that included nothing about Democrats, laced into them on Monday, accusing them of failing to give up their efforts to unseat Trump.

“Huge components of the Democratic party and their media allies have spent literally years spinning intricate theories about this president and trying to sell the American people on their wild claims,” McConnell said. “It’s as if many of our Democratic colleagues are still just unable to process the simple fact that, ‘Yes, the American people elected this Republican president over his Democratic opponent.’”

His comments were largely in line with those of other top Republicans the day after an attorney general’s summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report said there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Sen. Thom Tillis Monday demanded Democrats move on after the Mueller report or risk splitting the country.

“Democrats in Congress now have a choice to make,” the North Carolina Republican declared. “Accept the findings of the Mueller report and move on to advancing the business of the American people or instead pander to their fringe base by rejecting the Mueller report and launching politically-motivated and conspiracy-fueled investigations that will further divide our country.”

Mueller did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump had sought to obstruct justice. Barr said there was not enough evidence to pursue such a charge.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders accused Trump’s opponents of failing “at every single step of the way to defeat this president.” And presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California “ought to resign today.”

Democrats are insisting that the entire Mueller report be released. Minutes after he spoke on the floor, McConnell blocked that effort in the Senate, though he has previously said he wants as much of the the report released as possible at some point.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said he asked Barr to appear before his committee.

But, Graham told reporters, “I think we need to move on in terms of the deep dive into Trump,” adding, “Have Barr tell us what the report said ... But moving on includes the other stuff.”

Graham also said he would also be asking Barr to appoint a special counsel to determine whether the Obama administration’s Department of Justice unlawfully obtained a warrant to spy on a Trump associate as a way to help bolster 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

In addition, Graham said, the counsel could also probe the Obama-era FBI’s handling of an investigation into Clinton’s use of private emails.

Emma Dumain of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau contributed to this story
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Lesley Clark works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, covering all things Kentucky for McClatchy’s Lexington Herald-Leader. A former reporter for McClatchy’s Miami Herald, she also spent several years covering the White House.