Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appears principally focused on passing a regressive health care plan this summer, but with the Russia scandal intensifying, NBC News’ Kasie Hunt asked the Kentucky Republican a good question yesterday.
HUNT: Mr. Leader, you were briefed on this intelligence report surrounding Russian meddling back in the fall before the election. And there was a decision not to put that out in public. Now there are emails that show that Donald Trump Jr. was aware that this may have been damaging information from the Russian government. Do you regret your course of action?
MCCONNELL: What I have a lot of confidence in is the Intelligence Committee handling this whole investigation. Senator Burr and Senator Warner have ball control, and we’ll hear from them later.
There is no meaningful relationship between the question and the answer – the Intelligence Committee’s investigation is unrelated to McConnell’s personal culpability – but I’m glad Kasie asked anyway because I continue to believe this angle to the story is underappreciated.
As The New Republic’s Brian Beutler noted yesterday, “McConnell ran interference for Trump during the campaign to stop Obama from warning the country about things Trump was lying publicly about.”
That’s true. As we discussed last month, the Obama White House, swayed by the evidence compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies, wanted bipartisan support to pushback against Russian intrusion, and in mid-September, the then-president dispatched counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco, then-FBI Director James Comey, and then-Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to brief top members of Congress.
Obama didn’t want to be seen as using intelligence for partisan or electoral ends, so he sought a “show of solidarity and bipartisan unity” against foreign manipulation of our democracy.
That didn’t happen – because Mitch McConnel refused. From a recent Washington Post report:
In early September, Johnson, Comey, and Monaco arrived on Capitol Hill in a caravan of black SUVs for a meeting with 12 key members of Congress, including the leadership of both parties. The meeting devolved into a partisan squabble.
“The Dems were, ‘Hey, we have to tell the public,’ ” recalled one participant. But Republicans resisted, arguing that to warn the public that the election was under attack would further Russia’s aim of sapping confidence in the system.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went further, officials said, voicing skepticism that the underlying intelligence truly supported the White House’s claims.
McConnell seems reluctant to reflect on this now, but he still owes the public an explanation.