Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff under Barack Obama, was asked about the Democratic administration’s response to Russia’s 2016 election attack and whether Obama and his team did enough. Not surprisingly, McDonough shifted the focus back to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) indifference at the time.
The comments led McConnell to face a new round of questions, which as the Washington Post reported yesterday, the Republican leader was quick to dismiss out of hand.
“This is the same old thing they’ve been saying for weeks,” he told reporters at a weekly media availability. “I’ve issued a statement on that a couple of weeks ago and I’d be happy to send it to you again.”
There is no specific statement from a couple of weeks ago, according to McConnell’s top spokesman, Don Stewart. Instead, his office provides responses whenever reporters inquire about accusations like McDonough’s, he said.
Asked whether he wished he’d handled the accusations about Russian interference differently ahead of the 2016 elections, McConnell said, “No, I’m perfectly comfortable with the steps that were taken back then.”
I suspect the GOP leader really is “perfectly comfortable” with his actions – or lack thereof – but isn’t that the problem?
Let’s back up for those who need a refresher. As regular readers know, the Obama White House, swayed by the evidence compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies, wanted bipartisan support to push back against Russian intrusion, and in mid-September 2016, 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 McConnel refused. As the Washington Post previously reported, when national security officials told congressional leaders about Russia’s interference, it was McConnell who not only didn’t want to alert the public, he also questioned the validity of the intelligence.
Brian Beutler put it this way: “McConnell ran interference for Trump during the campaign to stop Obama from warning the country about things Trump was lying publicly about.”
By way of a defense, McConnell’s office points to the September 2016 letter, signed by congressional leaders from both parties, which was sent to the president of the National Association of State Election Directors. It warned state officials about possible hacking efforts. (This is what I suspect the senator was referring to yesterday.)
But this wasn’t the statement American intelligence officials wanted McConnell to endorse, and the letter made no reference to Russia’s attack, which McConnell was briefed on at the time.
Denis McDonough told NBC News’ Chuck Todd over the weekend that this statement was “dramatically watered down” at McConnell’s insistence – and he has no idea why.
The Republican leader may now see the story as “the same old thing,” but there’s no reason the matter should simply disappear because McConnell finds it annoying.