The U.S. Senate’s Intelligence Committee in mid-August released the fifth and final volume of its bipartisan and hair-raising report on Russian active measures to interfere with the 2016 election. This volume focused on counterintelligence vulnerabilities and threats. It should have been a huge story raising alarms about both President Trump and the forthcoming election, but in an administration featuring near daily violations of ethics and norms, as well as strong evidence of crimes, it was just another day ending in y.
Though U.S. Senator from Tennessee Marsha Blackburn is not mentioned in the volume (a Nashville attorney who formerly worked for her congressional campaign appears several times), actions she took earlier this year assures the Trump campaign is free to repeat its foreign interference playbook this fall. In February, she thrice effectively volunteered to be the getaway driver for campaign misconduct.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virg., moved to pass three election security bills via unanimous consent. Two took slightly different paths, but both would require campaigns to call the FBI if a foreign power contacts them and offers help. Another funded the Election Assistance Commission and would, among other things, require voter-verified paper ballots and ban voting machines from being connected to the internet (thus making results hacking very difficult). One by one, Blackburn objected—falsely bloviating about a federal power grab. Elections, of course, would remain a state function and insisting on minimum standards, especially for campaign reporting of foreign malign contact should be a bipartisan consensus point.
At the same time the third volume of the bipartisan Senate report was hot off the presses, making Blackburn’s move all the more galling. That report raised alarms about our country’s abilities to counter a forthcoming wave of Russian meddling. Further, only the week before Blackburn’s blocking move FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that Russia continued to be engaged in information warfare ahead of this November’s elections.
One might think that Senate Republicans would want to be on the side of legality and common sense. They could have taken the high road and let Donald Trump do his own dirty work by vetoing the legislation.
Nope. All they needed was one hard right and Trump-coddling extremist, preferably one not on this November’s ballot, to object to the unanimous consent request. Marsha Blackburn did it, blocking unanimous consent on all three bills—thus assuring all would die of inattention and/or hostile misinformation.
Blackburn in the middle of 2019 did nefarious foreshadowing of her 2020 blockages, objecting to unanimous consent on Senator Mark Warner’s Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections (FIRE) act. The bill would have required campaigns to notify the Federal Election Commission and the FBI when foreign nationals try to make donations. Blackburn called it “overboard,” even though it only dealt with actions already forbidden to foreign nationals.
A 2019 Trump interview with ABC set out why the legislation was needed. Trump said he was open to getting information about a political opponent, even information via foreign governments. Trump declared, “I think you might want to listen. There’s nothing wrong with listening…I think I’d take it.”
The 966 pages of the latest and final Senate report can be overwhelming, but let’s review the behavior that Marsha Blackburn effectively has blocked from serious remedy:
· Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the 2016 computer hacks into the Democratic Party specifically to damage the Hillary Clinton campaign, help Trump, and overall undermine the U.S. democratic process (p. 7).
· Trump’s campaign managers periodically shared internal poling data with a Russian intelligence operative (see pages 6, 91).
· Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort’s “presence on the Campaign and proximity to Trump created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump Campaign” (p. 7).
· Russian-government actors from late 2016 until this year have been spreading false narratives in an attempt to discredit investigations into Russian 2016 election interference (p. 120).
As we careen into the fall election cycle, we’d do well to remember Senator Marsha Blackburn leaving open the doors and windows for a repeat performance of Russian meddling.