Is there anyone in American politics more lacking in political integrity than Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell? Maybe House Speaker Paul Ryan. I know, it’s tough; there’s a lot of competition. But McConnell has shown himself to be a craven partisan brawler, once again, in only the last few hours, by belatedly joining a bipartisan call by his Senate colleagues, along with Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, for an investigation into allegations that Russia is behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and that it did so to help elect Donald Trump.
That was the claim in a bombshell Washington Post article over the weekend, which reported that the CIA has concluded not only that Russia was involved in hacking those Democratic accounts but that it did so, and leaked what it obtained, to help Trump’s campaign. The biggest reveal in the piece was that the Obama administration became so convinced by the intelligence community’s consensus about the Russian involvement that it directed top intelligence officials to brief a bipartisan assembly of congressional leaders in September, with the aim of generating support for a bipartisan statement about the intrusion into US politics. But McConnell blocked it.
You can have skepticism about claims that Russia is behind the DNC/Podesta hacks, and many people do. None of us should take intelligence community claims at face value, even if there is growing consensus outside the world of US intelligence that Russia was involved. But McConnell’s role stands out here as particularly treacherous.
“Specifically,” the Post reported, “the White House wanted congressional leaders to sign off on a bipartisan statement urging state and local officials to take federal help in protecting their voting-registration and balloting machines from Russian cyber-intrusions.”
That sounds like good-government, League of Women Voters kind of stuff, right? And according to the Post, at least some Republicans were willing to consider it. But McConnell said no, warning “that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.” No such warning was made.
On the heels of the Post’s reporting on Friday, The New York Times ran its own version of the story, adding the contention that the Republican National Committee’s e-mails were also hacked—but that information has not yet been released to the public. There’s some intelligence community disagreement on that claim, with the FBI insisting it is not clear that Russia hacked the RNC.
All of this reporting brought senators out of hiding. On Sunday, a bipartisan group—Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Jack Reed, both Democrats, and Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham—issued a joint statement denouncing Russian involvement in the hacking and demanding Congressional investigation into “the grave threats that cyberattacks conducted by foreign governments pose to our national security.” They went on: “This cannot become a partisan issue. The stakes are too high for our country.” That rankled some Democrats, since the attack was clearly partisan, and blocked Hillary Clinton from the White House. But it makes sense to frame the issue in terms of national security, to reach the widest audience.