About a year ago, as U.S. intelligence officials recognized the scope of the Russian attack on the American election, then-CIA Director John Brennan warned Alexander Bortnikov, the director of Russia’s Federal Security Service, that Moscow was doing major harm to the countries’ relationship.
But just as importantly, Brennan told his Russian counterpart that the espionage operation would fail. “I said that all Americans, regardless of political affiliation or whom they might support in the election, cherish their ability to elect their own leaders without outside interference or disruption,” Brennan explained. “I said American voters would be outraged by any Russian attempt to interfere in election.”
Regrettably, the former CIA director’s assumptions about basic American patriotism were mistaken. Not only did many voters fall for the Russian attack, but as BuzzFeed reported, some leading members of Congress didn’t much care about the foreign intervention in our democracy.
In an internal memo to CIA employees last December, CIA Director John Brennan complained that some members of Congress he had briefed about the agency’s assessment that Russia interfered in the US presidential election did not “understand and appreciate the importance and gravity of the issue.”
Brennan’s Dec. 16, 2016, memo did not identify the lawmakers who expressed skepticism about the CIA’s judgment that Russia helped Donald Trump win the election. But three intelligence sources told BuzzFeed News that Brennan’s criticism was directed at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn, the majority whip. At the time, the two Republican lawmakers downplayed the importance of the CIA’s intelligence. Cornyn said it was “hardly news.”
In other words, when the CIA told these lawmakers about the most important attack on the United States since 9/11, they just didn’t much care.
In recent months, Donald Trump, the beneficiary of Russia’s espionage operation, has repeatedly accused the Obama White House of doing “nothing” in response to the intelligence. It’s become increasingly obvious that Trump has the correct criticism, but the wrong target.
As for what Brennan has said publicly, I’m reminded of something he said during congressional testimony several months ago:
“For the last 241 years this nation and its citizens have cherished the freedom and liberty that this nation was founded upon. Many, many Americans, great Americans, over the years have lost their lives to be able to protect that freedom and liberty. They’ve lost their lives also to protect the freedom and liberties of other countries.
“Our ability to chose our elected leaders as we see fit is, I believe, is an inalienable right that we must protect with all of our resources and all of our authority and power. And the fact that the Russians tried to influence that election so that the will of the American people was not going to be realized by that election, I find outrageous and something that we need to, with every last ounce of devotion to this country, resist.”
I’d have far greater confidence in those who currently hold the levers of federal power if they shared in Brennan’s outrage.