Why Everyone Should Heed Fallout of Mueller Report By Luke Perry
An April 24th Observer Dispatch (OD) editorial “Real America too often lost in DC shuffle” discussed how the Mueller report is not a priority for many NY-22 constituents. This is understandable, given the challenges we face, but shouldn’t obscure the significance of what happened, nor suggest “real Americans” weren’t impacted.
The report articulated in detail how a foreign adversary deployed extensive cyberattacks and a vast propaganda campaign to promote the election of the victorious 2016 presidential candidate. In the words of Russian intelligence agents post-election, “Putin won.” He then enjoyed two years of related political divisions, weakening the stability of our political system and provoking a constitutional crisis.
Hyper-partisan reactions have misplaced what should be the universal focus moving forward: defending U.S. democracy and the integrity of our electoral system. Unfortunately, this is not the top priority of Congress or the White House, where electoral self-interest has superseded national interest.
There are also administrative problems within the executive branch in responding to Russian aggression. This week The New York Times reported that Mick Mulvaney, Acting White House Chief of Staff, instructed U.S. security professionals, including the Secretary of Homeland Security, to not discuss Russian-related electoral security concerns with the president.
America has defended democracy for over a century. The Cold War rekindled with the rise of Putin’s Russia, whose threats are now more digital than physical, but still extraordinarily destructive to our way of life. The more divided and less democratic we become, the more it diminishes us and benefits Putin’s undemocratic regime.
It can be easy to view international relations as beyond the scope of our daily lives, but countless Americans were touched by Russia’s attacks.
Do you vote? Russian cyberattacks breached state and local governments, and private vendors, responsible for election operations, causing malfunctions, stealing voter misinformation, and seeking to manipulate vote totals.
Do you read or watch the news? Russia’s “hacking and dumping operations” stole communications from the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, and her campaign, which was routinely disseminated by every media outlet, including this newspaper.
Are you on social media? Russian intelligence operatives created sock-puppet accounts, posing as party organizations and civic groups, that spread misinformation, provided “pro-Trump and anti-Clinton content,” and even organized campaign rallies attended by Americans. Millions of users were exposed to this content and unknowingly assisted Russia by liking and spreading related posts, including elected officials and the Trump campaign.
The explosion of digital technology enabled our enemies to quickly and efficiently mass target us. Russians were not breaking down the door. Worse, they were in our phones, computers, e-mails, social media posts, election hardware, public databases, and public discourse. We ironically feel disconnected from an enemy we cannot see, but is all around us.
The Mueller Report comprehensively accounted for what happened. We ignore this threat to the peril of our democracy.
People will read into the president’s behavior what they want, largely through a partisan lens. Like most complex developments, the report was mixed for Trump, who avoided criminal liability through an unflattering accounting of his campaign and presidency.
The OD editorial board questioned the cost of the investigation and lauded Anthony Brindisi’s approach to the issue. Assets forfeited to the government by Paul Mannfort and other campaign-related felons were approximately $42 million, well above the $25 million investigation price tag, one half of a percent of this year’s federal expenditures.
Brindisi benefits electorally by not discussing the report and prioritizing less polarizing issues. Reactions from neighboring representatives varied.
Rep. John Katko (R, NY-24) believes the report criminally vindicated the president and opposes impeachment, though was “disturbed” by the president’s “lack of discipline.”
Rep. Antonio Delgado (D, NY-19) said “all branches of government must work together to uphold the rule of law, protect our democracy against interference from adversaries and restore public trust in our elections.”
All members of Congress should be asked what they are doing to prevent something like this from ever happening again.
When Russians contact you seeking to help your campaign, Katko told the The Post-Standard editorial board, “you should run away,” not welcome it.
This longstanding norm of U.S. electoral politics must remain intact whatever happens over the next two years.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College