Donald Trump has spent roughly two years questioning every aspect of Russia's 2016 attack on our elections, including the fact that the foreign intelligence operation happened. In his first major speech on the issue yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence was willing to say unambiguously what the president has shied away from. The Washington Post reported:
"While other nations certainly possessed the capability, the fact is Russia meddled in our 2016 elections," Pence said, speaking at a government cybersecurity conference here hosted by the Department of Homeland Security."That is the unambiguous judgment of our intelligence community, and as the president said, we 'accept the intelligence community's conclusion,' " Pence said.
Pence's overly generous rhetoric notwithstanding, the president has repeatedly taken issue with the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies and professionals -- including one especially high-profile incident last month in Helsinki, when Trump stood alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin and endorsed his denials over the findings of the U.S. intelligence community.
To be sure, it's unfortunate that we have to grade this White House on a curve. Under normal circumstances, it shouldn't necessarily be news when a leading American official acknowledges an obvious fact and expresses support for his own country's intelligence. But it's hard to overlook the fact that these are not normal circumstances.
But while it was heartening to see a top member of the president's team address the Russian attack in a straightforward way, Pence couldn't leave well enough alone.
"Russia's goal was to sow discord and division and weaken the American people's faith in our democracy," the vice president added. "And while no actual votes were changed, any attempt to interfere in our elections is an affront to our democracy, and it will not be allowed."
First, Russia's goal was to put Trump in power, making Pence's rhetoric, if we're being charitable, incomplete. Second, the emphasis on Russia not changing "actual votes" is misleading: the scandal, as he probably knows, isn't about the manipulation of specific voting tallies.
Making matters quite a bit worse, the Indiana Republican seemed eager to blame cyber-threats against election security on Barack Obama, insisting yesterday that Trump "inherited" a "crisis" from his predecessor.
Pence argued, "[T]he last administration too often chose silence and paralysis over strength and action ... Make no mistake about it: Those days are over."
In reality, the "last administration" wasn't the problem. When Obama's team tried to show strength and take action, it was Pence's Republican allies who refused. (And it's Trump who continues to neglect the problem.)
I'm glad Pence acknowledged Russia's attack, but his speech would've been more effective if it didn't include partisan nonsense.