It was not just Democrats but also Republicans who expressed shock after Donald Trump’s “apology tour” appearance with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The president of the United States refused to condemn Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and instead attacked the inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller into a host of allegations regarding political skullduggery. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called Monday’s joint press conference in Helsinki a “missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.” That was actually one of the milder critiques on a day when former CIA director John Brennan declared: “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican patriots: Where are you?”
A number of prominent Republicans did speak up.
Arizona Senator Jeff Flake—noting the indictment last week of 12 Russians for interfering with US elections—complained, “I never thought I would see the day when our American President would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression. This is shameful.”
Even House Speaker Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who is famous for pulling his punches, swung hard on Monday. Arguing that “Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world,” Ryan said, “The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy.”
Those were strong words. But so what? Complaining about the signals that this president is sending with regard to election integrity, even suggesting that Trump’s comments might encourage interference in the 2018 and 2020 elections, is just talk. It means nothing unless words are matched with deeds. No matter what anyone thinks about Trump, or about Putin, or about US-Russian relations, or about how direct and how ambitious outside interference may have been in 2016, or about what details of that interference may tell us about the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency, or about where the Mueller investigation is headed—it is simply absurd that affirmative steps are not being taken to secure the electoral processes of the United States going into this fall’s midterm elections and heading toward the 2020 presidential election.
It is stunning that a sense of urgency has not developed—among leaders of both major parties. Even Dan Coats, the Trump administration’s director of national intelligence, has said that “There should be no doubt that Russia perceives that its past efforts have been successful and views the 2018 midterm U.S. elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.”
“Frankly,” Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this year, “the United States is under attack.”