Donald Trump and his White House recently settled on a new talking point to respond to Russia’s attack on the American election: everyone should blame Barack Obama. As Politico noted, the president’s Republican allies on Capitol Hill are reading from the same script.
Several Republicans used a Senate hearing Wednesday to admonish former President Barack Obama for failing to stop Russia’s hacking of the 2016 presidential campaign, echoing a narrative that President Donald Trump has promoted in recent days.
A number of lawmakers went after Obama for not being more publicly vocal about the Russian-ordered hacking, which U.S. intelligence agencies said targeted campaigns, Democratic Party organizations and state election databases in the months before Election Day.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), targeting the former president, said, “He stood idly by in the 2016 election.”
To the extent that reality still matters in this debate, the idea that Obama “stood idly by” is wrong. There’s room for a debate about whether the former administration could have, or should have, done more, but the Democratic president took a variety of actions, and likely would’ve done far more if he didn’t feel constrained by circumstances.
But if Republicans are looking for a leading U.S. official who actually “stood idly by” in the face of the most serious attack on the United States since 9/11, they won’t have to look far.
We’ve known for many months that 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, FBI Director James Comey, and 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 Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-Ky.) refused. From last week’s Washington Post report that helped spark the GOP’s current rhetorical push:
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.
If Republicans want a discussion about who was idle in the fall of 2016, they may not like who ends up on the losing side of this blame game.