With all the news this week over the Nunes Memo and the resignation of Andrew McCabe, it’s easy to forget that the Trump Administration isn’t America’s only enemy. The Russians, who aided and abetted him in stealing our election, have not been duly punished, and show no signs of slowing down in their attempts to subvert American democracy. They want to do it again in our midterms this fall, and the left must get their act together if they want to stop it.
In an interview this week with the BBC, CIA director Mike Pompeo told a reporter, “This threat is not going to go away…I have every expectation that they will try and [hack the midterms] but I’m confident…that we’ll push back.” Reporters covering the Nunes fallout did not give his words the commentary or airtime they deserved, nor was there much coverage of the highly suspicious events that no doubt influenced them.
The first occurred last week, when Aleksandr Bortkinov, head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), came from Moscow to Washington to meet with Pompeo. While it’s common for American intelligence directors to meet with their foreign counterparts, what makes this stand out is that, at the same time, the directors of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), Sergei Navalny and Igor Korobov, were also in Washington. For Russia’s three major intelligence directors to be in the capital all at once is unusual, according to Steven Hall, former CIA station chief in Moscow. “[Russians] consider it a big political win if they can do [that],” he said, “so it’s particularly strange under these circumstances that we would want to give them something like that.”
The second came the same day Pompeo talked to the BBC, when Donald Trump announced he would not impose the sanctions against Russia that penalize nations who purchase their military equipment. The Senate passed these sanctions last summer by a vote of 98-2, and Trump signed on to them in August, but declared Monday, according to State Department spokeswoman Heather Haert, that because nations were already holding off on buying Russian arms, the sanctions had succeeded as a symbolic deterrent, and officially imposing them could wait. This decision has angered politicians on both sides of the aisle, and, coupled with Pompeo’s announcement, does not sit well with those observing events.
Mother Jones’s David Corn took to the pulpit today with the most detailed article about this looming threat, writing:
“It is not well known that the Moscow cyber assault on the 2016 elections went beyond the presidential campaign. Russian hackers also broke into the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee [DCCC], the party outfit in charge of House races, and swiped and released key internal documents about some of the most important House races that year…In several House races, candidates used the leaked material to attack Democrats…DCCC officials came to believe the dumps were a decisive factor in several races in which the Democrat lost.”
If we’ve learned anything from listening to our intelligence community and those with foreign policy experience, Russia has shown no signs of backing down since their success in 2016. Their meddling worked then, and it will work again in 2018 if we are not vigilant. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said we were not prepared for future attacks in a testimony last October. And given the ways Russians manipulate people on the far right and far left (writing fake articles for sites like CounterPunch and deploying trolls like Cassandra Fairbanks to do their dirty work), we remain vulnerable to political apathy, which threatens to lull future generations into a narcissistic cynicism about “both sides.”
Russia knows how to play a long game — something America struggles with. Stopping the Nunes memo, or stalling him, or forcing him to resign, is a short-term goal that will benefit the Russia investigation going forward, and the Democrats who want to challenge his seat this fall. But stopping him is meaningless without a larger goal in mind: taking back the House and Senate and forcing the Trump administration into a corner.
Russia is counting on us to succumb to these weaknesses and give them what they want: a weakened, fractured country in a state of fear and confusion. That’s why Putin and Trump count on the public losing focus when they throw misleading bombshells into the news. If the left wants to win in 2018, they cannot not lose focus every time Trump tweets something or the GOP declares a new Hillary Clinton scandal. The right believes the left will fall for it every time, so they must prove them wrong in time for the most important midterms in modern history.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.