Columnist and author
Columnist and author
The predawn attack struck without warning — bullseye! It looked like many others that were the work of a foreign adversary. Yet it wasn›t until mid-morning Wednesday when the dead-center hit was discovered by the intended target — me.
And I only discovered the attack because I looked away from my big-screen, where former special counsel Robert Mueller was on TV testifying at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, to check whether anything urgent was happening on my small screen. On the big screen, Mueller began by saying “...our investigation found that the Russian government interfered in our election in a sweeping and systematic fashion...”
Glancing at my small screen, while listening to Mueller, I discovered the email that hit my inbox at 1:07am. It looked like, and read like, precisely the sort of weaponized disinformation emails Mueller was speaking about. The sender was an email address I›ve come to recognize; it›s one that frequently blast-emails these things to an apparently long list. The content read like another of those conspiracy screeds that could have been made in Moscow and was still being sent around by folks who were fooled into thinking the message is the real deal (when it is not!).
The first sentence was about the Clinton Foundation; soon it got to Bill and Hillary and Comey and Obama and all the usual suspects from the old “Casablanca.” At its top and tail was the usual urgent appeal to send this on to everyone everywhere.
As Mueller is testifying on TV, I do what I have often done with those emails: I go online and find that once again, the validators at Snopes.com know all about this one and have labeled it “False.” A standard conspiracy theory canard. Precisely the sort of thing Mueller›s report warned us about. Russia›s military intelligence operatives have mastered the craft of making up and spreading such disinformation (see also: lies). They know how to make their Braunschweiger sound real enough to fool those who are gullible or easily drawn to conspiracy yarns.
Their goal is to divide our citizens and shatter our democracy. And other global adversaries, ranging from the Chinese, Iranians and stateless spreaders of terror, have been going to school on Russia›s incipient successes in manipulating our election system.
Later Wednesday afternoon, Mueller, while testifying at his second hearing that day, at the House Intelligence Committee, is asked the carefully leading question about whether Russia›s 2016 campaign interference was a one-time thing. “It wasn›t a single attempt,” Mueller says. “They›re doing it as we sit here.”
But the real question that remains unanswered is: Will we demand that our leaders, especially the Republicans who control the Senate and of course the executive branch, do anything other than just sit there while the Russians (and others) are doing whatever they want to manipulate the electorate and even the election machinery of our democracy?
On Wednesday, after Mueller testified, Senate Republicans blocked two Democratic efforts to get unanimous approval of two common-sense bills to simply put into law what FBI directors have always said should be done by everyone in campaign politics: If a foreign operative offers to provide assistance to any U.S. political campaign, the campaign official involved should contact the FBI immediately.
That is only controversial because it is precisely what Donald Trump Jr. failed to do when Russians contacted him and promised to give him with “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. The Senate›s Republican leaders clearly don›t want to anger their ultimate leader, President Trump.
Meanwhile, House Republicans weren›t reluctant to persistently attack Mueller, who has devoted his life to serving America, even when it seemed clear Wednesday that his battles have taken a toll. A Vietnam War hero who earned a Bronze Star for braving fire to rescue a wounded fellow Marine and who then led the FBI during challenging times, Mueller seemed halting and much older than his 74 years. Yet Republican congressmen pounded him with questions they sprung like political traps.
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