It’s at least somewhat understandable that Republicans are seizing on Attorney General Bill Barr’s summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report as good news for Donald Trump. I think it’s premature – the White House’s allies haven’t read Mueller’s findings, which may be worse for the president than Barr characterized – but the political antics make some sense.
That said, for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to use Barr’s memo to go after Barack Obama is pure gaslighting.
McConnell argued that the report shows that Obama was unprepared to address Russian election meddling efforts, but the majority leader conveniently ignored his reported attempts to water down the Obama White House’s attempts to call out the Russia interference efforts ahead of the 2016 election.
In a floor speech on Monday afternoon, McConnell blasted Obama’s Russia policy.
“The attorney general reports that Russia carried out online disinformation campaign and computer hacking efforts designed to sow discord in our nation and interfere in American politics. It is deeply disturbing that the Obama administration was apparently insufficiently prepared to anticipate and counter these Russian threats,” McConnell said. “It was hardly a secret prior to November 2016 that Putin’s Russia was not and is not our friend. And yet for years, the previous administration ignored, excused and failed to confront Putin’s malign activities both at home and abroad.”
It’s not every day that a news item makes me want to bang my head against my desk.
Let’s back up for those who need a refresher on the events of 2016. 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 reported in 2017, 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 has pointed to a 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.
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.
Former White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told NBC News’ Chuck Todd over last year that this statement was “dramatically watered down” at McConnell’s insistence – and he has no idea why.
One year later, McConnell wants to exploit a report he hasn’t read and publicly condemn the Obama administration’s insufficient preparedness on Russian threats. Even by 2019 standards, this is simply madness.