Mitch McConnell
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Bloomberg Politics has an important story today outlining the extensive attempts by Russia to hack U.S. voting systems.

Russia’s cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system before Donald Trump’s election was far more widespread than has been publicly revealed, including incursions into voter databases and software systems in almost twice as many states as previously reported.

In Illinois, investigators found evidence that cyber intruders tried to delete or alter voter data. The hackers accessed software designed to be used by poll workers on Election Day, and in at least one state accessed a campaign finance database. Details of the wave of attacks, in the summer and fall of 2016, were provided by three people with direct knowledge of the U.S. investigation into the matter. In all, the Russian hackers hit systems in a total of 39 states, one of them said.

The article goes on to say that during this time, the main concern of the Obama administration was that the Russians were preparing to launch a disruptive attack on the vote. That is why, back in August 2016, Sec. of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson proposed the idea of designating the country’s voting systems as “critical infrastructure,” like the financial sector and the power grid.

Reuters notes that Republicans balked at the idea. As an example, here is what the Heritage Foundation wrote about it at the time.

There is only one problem with this — there is no credible threat of a successful cyberattack on our voting and ballot-counting process because of the way our current election system is organized…

But designating the nation’s election system as “critical infrastructure” under a post 9/11 federal statute may be a way for the administration to get Justice Department lawyers, the FBI, and DHS staff into polling places they would otherwise have no legal right to access, which would enable them to interfere with election administration procedures around the country.

As we learned from the Washington Post, the Obama administration then took their concerns to a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders in September.

…officials devised a plan to seek bipartisan support from top lawmakers and set up a secret meeting with the Gang of 12 — a group that includes House and Senate leaders, as well as the chairmen and ranking members of both chambers’ committees on intelligence and homeland security.

Obama dispatched Monaco, FBI Director James B. Comey and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to make the pitch for a “show of solidarity and bipartisan unity” against Russian interference in the election, according to a senior administration official.

Specifically, the White House wanted congressional leaders to sign off on a bipartisan statement urging state and local officials to take federal help in protecting their voting-registration and balloting machines from Russian cyber-intrusions.

Here is how they described the response:

The Democratic leaders in the room unanimously agreed on the need to take the threat seriously. Republicans, however, were divided, with at least two GOP lawmakers reluctant to accede to the White House requests.

According to several officials, McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.

Keep in mind that the concern expressed by the Obama administration was not about the Russians hacking the DNC and John Podesta’s email in an attempt to boost the candidacy of Donald Trump. The emphasis at the time was on the fact that Russia was hacking into our voting systems and the very real fear was that they would attempt to interfere with election results.

Apparently that was fine with McConnell, who not only refused to sign on to a bipartisan statement about protecting the vote, but threatened that any effort to call out the Russians would be labelled by Republicans as nothing more than partisan politics.

Perhaps it’s time to question McConnell and Republican leaders about why, in the face of evidence, they were not concerned about Russia’s attempt to rig a US election. Did they know at the time that it was an effort to support Trump, or did they simply not care about protecting the vote? It sure has the stench of the former, but either way, it is a breathtaking response to one of the most profound challenges to our democracy in decades.

This is the kind of thing that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to deal with Republicans as honest opponents. As long as they are not willing to reach across the aisle and protect our election integrity in a bipartisan manner, people like Mitch McConnell must be considered toxic enemies to our democratic ideals.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.