At a congressional hearing two weeks ago, the top intelligence and law enforcement officials from the Trump administration expressed serious concerns about Russian intentions to once again attack U.S. elections. The comments stood in contrast with Donald Trump's assessment -- since the president doesn't even like to acknowledge that the 2016 attack happened.
But just as importantly, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) pressed the officials on whether Trump had directed any of them to take "specific actions to confront and to blunt" Russian interference activities. They hemmed and hawed, but none pointed to any specific presidential directives.
Yesterday, it happened again.
A top intelligence official said Tuesday that the U.S. is "probably not doing enough" to combat Russian attempts to interfere in American elections — prompting the fury of several Democratic lawmakers — and acknowledged that he'd not been directed by President Donald Trump to do more to stop such meddling by Moscow.At a U.S. Cyber Command hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Adm. Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, said he had not been given the authority by Trump, or Defense Secretary James Mattis, his direct boss, to strike at Russian cyberoperations against the U.S.Rogers admitted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had likely concluded there was "little price" to pay for trying to disrupt U.S. elections.
As Rachel put it last night, it seems like a big story when the head of the National Security Agency says he has not been authorized by his boss -- Donald Trump -- to disrupt Russian cyberattacks targeting our elections. Rogers' hands are basically tied because the president hasn't given him or his agency the day-to-day authority to actually disrupt Russia's ongoing cyberattacks against us.
The good news is, reporters sought an explanation from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The bad news is, her response was cringe-worthy.
ABC News' Jonathan Karl asked why Rogers hasn't yet been given the authority to confront Russian cyber-intrusion. Sanders responded that the State Department is doing some stuff; officials at the Department of Homeland Security have had some meetings; and the White House is "looking at a number of different options."
As answers go, this was obviously underwhelming, and it led to some back and forth, before Sanders remembered that what she really likes to do is blame Barack Obama.
"We're looking at a number of different ways that we can put pressure. Look, this president, as I told you last week, has been much tougher on Russia than his predecessor. Let's not forget that this happened under Obama. It didn't happen under President Trump. If you want to blame somebody on past problems, then you need to look at the Obama administration."
As Trump World nonsense goes, this was unusually foolish, so let's unpack it:
1. It's been 16 months since the Russian attack on our elections. The fact that Trump, who can't bring himself to acknowledge the attack or say unkind words about his Russian benefactors, is "looking at a number of different" things sounds pretty pathetic.
3. Obama imposed sanctions on Russia -- Sanders might recall that Trump's disgraced national security advisor had some interesting things to say about them -- and wanted to do more. Congressional Republicans refused. Every time the White House press secretary tries to lash out at Trump's predecessor, she's actually condemning Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
4. Sanders' focus yesterday was on blaming somebody for "past problems," but the question was about Trump's apparent indifference toward protecting the United States from a Russian attack this year.
Asked about this, it's curious that the White House seemed eager to change the subject.