Thank you, Rod J. Rosenstein. You are just the person the country needed to hear from right now.
The deputy attorney general’s announcement Friday that a dozen Russian intelligence agents have been charged with conspiring to hack Democrats during the 2016 presidential election was a badly needed reminder of what special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe is all about, and why it must be allowed to proceed.
In tone and substance, Rosenstein’s statement was comforting, a reminder that adult supervision still exists in Washington.
“When we confront foreign interference in American elections, it is important for us to avoid thinking politically as Republicans or Democrats and instead to think patriotically as Americans. Our response must not depend on who was victimized,” he said. “The internet allows foreign adversaries to attack America in new and unexpected ways. Free and fair elections are hard-fought and contentious. There will always be adversaries who work to exacerbate domestic differences and try to confuse, divide and conquer us. So long as we are united in our commitment to the values enshrined in the Constitution, they will not succeed.”
His timing was also perfect, and not because he stepped on President Donald Trump’s tea party with the queen of England.
It came at the end of another week in which a serious threat to our democracy was getting drowned out as the president continued to yammer on Twitter about a “Rigged Witch Hunt.” It followed the embarrassingly partisan spectacle that surrounded the Capitol Hill testimony Thursday by Peter Strzok, a deputy assistant FBI director who was removed from the Trump probe by Mueller after it was discovered that he and his paramour were sending each other texts expressing their antipathy toward Trump.
And, most importantly, the announcement came as Trump prepares to meet one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday in Helsinki. The indictments make it clear that the attack can be traced to the very heart of Putin’s government.
Rosenstein said he briefed Trump that all of this was coming, which makes the president’s continuing efforts to discredit the investigation all the more troubling. Trump has promised to “absolutely, firmly” press Putin about the election interference, but don’t expect much. Putin “may deny it. All I can do is say, ‘Did you?’ And, ‘Don’t do it again,’” Trump said.
The thing is, we have every reason to expect that Russians will do it again — and may be doing it right now for the midterm election. Yet Congress has been shockingly uninterested in hardening the nation’s electoral defenses and preventing a repeat of what happened in 2016, when Russian hackers made an effort to infiltrate voter-registration files and balloting sites in 21 states.
Voters also needed a reminder of what this is all about. Republican efforts to discredit the probe are gaining traction. The latest Post poll shows Americans are nearly evenly split on how Mueller is handling the investigation, with just 49 percent approving and 45 percent disapproving, and whether possible ties between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government represent a serious issue.
“The partisan warfare fueled by modern technology does not fairly reflect the grace and dignity of the American people,” Rosenstein said. “We need to work together to hold the perpetrators accountable, and keep moving forward to preserve our values, protect against future interference and defend America.” That’s the point. And thank goodness there are at least a few people left in Washington who still remember this.