At yesterday’s White House press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, a reporter asked Donald Trump about Russian efforts to influence American elections. His response rambled a bit and mainly focused on his belief that Republicans will do well in the 2018 midterms. Trump acted as if he didn’t understand the question.
And so, the reporter again asked whether the American president is “worried about Russia trying to meddle” in this year’s elections. Trump replied:
“No, because we’ll counteract whatever they do. We’ll counteract it very strongly. And we are having strong backup systems. And we’ve been working, actually – we haven’t been given credit for this, but we’ve actually been working very hard on the ‘18 election and the ‘20 election coming up.”
Note, in Trump’s mind, it’s important to always stress that he and his team be given “credit” for their efforts – because in this White House, effective public service is not its own reward.
But even putting that aside, the problem, whether the president understands this or not, is that he and his team haven’t been “working very hard” on this at all. In fact, by all appearances, the exact opposite is true.
It was just last week when Adm. Michael Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, conceded to lawmakers that U.S. officials are “probably not doing enough” on this issue, adding that the president still hasn’t authorized his office to disrupt Russian cyberattacks
Making matters worse, we learned soon after that the Trump administration’s Global Engagement Center has been allocated $120 million to counter foreign efforts to meddle in elections – and it hasn’t yet spent a dime.
The Washington Post also reported, “During his first year as president, Trump held no Cabinet or high-level National Security Council meetings about combating Russian interference. He and his administration have sought to roll back or simply have not enforced measures to hold Moscow accountable, such as sanctions passed overwhelmingly by Congress.”
It’s not exactly a mystery how Russian officials are likely to respond to these circumstances. They attacked the United States in 2016, successfully ended up with the results Putin’s government wanted, have faced limited repercussions, and will face limited resistance if they launch another intelligence operation against us this year.
U.S. intelligence agencies are currently ringing the alarm, making clear they expect an escalation in efforts from Moscow. The NSA’s Rogers told Congress last week that Putin “has clearly come to the conclusion that ‘there’s little price to pay here and therefore I can continue this activity.’”
It’s against this backdrop that Trump is not only doing very little, he also expects “credit” despite his passivity against a foreign threat.