White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders alerted reporters this afternoon to an interesting tidbit: Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had an hour-long chat this morning, and the two covered quite a bit of ground – including the resolution of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Toward the very end of the Q&A with Sanders, there was an exchange that stood out for me:
QUESTION: So, you had said that they talked about the Mueller report being over. But the Mueller report also outlines in extensive detail attempts by Putin and Russia to interfere in the election. Did that not come up at all in the course of the–
SANDERS: Again, the conversation on that part was very quick. But what I can tell you is that this administration, unlike the previous one, takes election meddling seriously. And we’re going to do everything that we can to prevent it from happening.
There are three core elements to this, and each one is important.
The first is the angle raised by the reporter, which the White House press secretary was quick to dismiss: the Mueller report makes clear that Russia attacked our elections. It’s a point even the Trump campaign no longer contests. When the American president speaks with the chief executive of a country that launched a military intelligence operation against the United States, it’s not unreasonable to think the American leader would make his dissatisfaction known.
There’s no indication that Trump did anything of the kind.
Second, note Sanders not-so-subtle condemnation of the Obama administration’s approach to foreign election interference. It might be a more compelling point were it not for everything we know about what transpired in 2016 – when Barack Obama and his team urged congressional leaders to show “solidarity and bipartisan unity” against foreign manipulation of our democracy, but Mitch McConnell refused.
It’s curious that Sarah Huckabee Sanders overlooked these relevant details.
And third, the idea that the Trump administration takes foreign election meddling seriously is a point of considerable controversy. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, for example, reportedly told Kirstjen Nielsen, before her ouster as Homeland Security secretary, not to even broach the subject of foreign interference in our elections around Trump, apparently because it makes the president feel bad.
The New York Times reported this week, meanwhile, that the Republican president has “little interest or patience for hearing about” warnings of election meddling because Trump “views any discussion of future Russian interference as effectively questioning the legitimacy of his 2016 victory.”
What’s more, it was just last week when one Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ colleagues – I believe his name is Jared Kushner – downplayed the Russian attack in 2016 as being little more than “a couple of Facebook ads.”
This is the same White House that – a year ago this month – eliminated the job of the nation’s cyber-security czar. The New York Times reported at the time, “Cyber-security experts and members of Congress said they were mystified by the move…. It was the latest in a series of steps that appeared to run counter to the prevailing view in Washington of cybersecurity’s importance.”
When Sanders brags about seriousness with which the administration is taking the issue, some skepticism is in order.