Trump Is Counting on Putin’s Help in 2020

Over the last few days, Donald Trump has been broadcasting his fear of the investigations House Democrats are in the process of launching.

This is an attempt to extend his efforts to obstruct justice that were chronicled in the Mueller report. On Tuesday morning, the president threatened that “if the partisan Dems ever tried to Impeach, I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court.” While that is a threat based in ignorance, it demonstrates the constitutional crisis that is building over Democratic efforts to hold Trump accountable.

Mike Allen suggested that the strategy being employed by the president is to “run out the clock.” After all, many of these issues will take months to work their way though the courts. As Kevin Drum notes, the point is to drag all of this out until election day because, “if he wins, he’s safe from everything since Republicans will never agree to impeach him even if he shoots someone on Fifth Avenue.”

When it comes to the 2020 election, Trump is obviously counting on continued help from his buddy Vladimir Putin. That is what emerges from a story in the New York Times by Eric Schmitt, David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman. They have talked to several of Kirstjen Nielsen’s associates, who relayed what happened when the former DHS secretary attempted to organize a White House response to Russia’s ongoing attempts to interfere in U.S. elections.

Officials said [Nielsen] had become increasingly concerned about Russia’s continued activity in the United States during and after the 2018 midterm elections — ranging from its search for new techniques to divide Americans using social media, to experiments by hackers, to rerouting internet traffic and infiltrating power grids.

But in a meeting this year, Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff, made it clear that Mr. Trump still equated any public discussion of malign Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory. According to one senior administration official, Mr. Mulvaney said it “wasn’t a great subject and should be kept below his level.”

Even though the Department of Homeland Security has primary responsibility for civilian cyberdefense, Ms. Nielsen eventually gave up on her effort to organize a White House meeting of cabinet secretaries to coordinate a strategy to protect next year’s elections.

To be clear, the threat is very real.

The opening page of the Worldwide Threat Assessment, a public document compiled by government intelligence agencies that was delivered to Congress in late January, warned that “the threat landscape could look very different in 2020 and future elections.”

“Russia’s social media efforts will continue to focus on aggravating social and racial tensions, undermining trust in authorities and criticizing perceived anti-Russia politicians,” the report noted. It also predicted that “Moscow may employ additional influence tool kits — such as spreading disinformation, conducting hack-and-leak operations or manipulating data — in a more targeted fashion to influence U.S. policy, actions and elections.”

This is why I have suggested on a couple of occasions that the president’s Russiagate defense is rooted in his denial of their interference in the 2016 election. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, added to those concerns on Monday by dismissively referring to Putin’s efforts as merely “a couple of Facebook ads.”

When Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD) counsels that Democrats should simply wait for the American people to make their judgement in 18 months, that assumes that the 2020 election will be conducted free of influence from a foreign adversary. Neither Trump nor Putin are willing to let that happen.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.