National Security Action: An Open Door for Moscow

Feb. 21, 2020 – It’s no surprise how President Trump reportedly responded to intelligence confirming that Moscow is again working to advance his electoral prospects: He attacked ⁠— and fired ⁠— the messenger. Trump replaced Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire with Richard Grenell, a political loyalist with no intelligence experience best known as a Twitter troll. In doing so, Trump again placed his own interests ⁠— reelection, in this case ⁠— ahead of our national security.

 There’s another pattern at play: Trump time and again has gone out of his way to invite or even manufacture foreign interference in our elections. He has provided an open invitation to Russia and other adversaries to undermine the foundation of American democracy.  

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Trump has gone out of his way to help Moscow to interfere in our elections: 

  • In a July 2016 news conference, then-candidate Trump infamously invited Russia to interfere in the 2016 election on public television, imploring: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
  • In January 2017, the Intelligence Community assessed that Russia interfered in the 2016 election with a clear preference for Trump. Ever since assuming office, however, Trump has refused to hold Russia accountable, allowing Putin to reuse and even improve upon the tactics he used so effectively in 2016. 
  • During a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office in May 2017, Trump reportedly told Lavrov and Kislyak that Russian interference in U.S. elections does not concern him, essentially opening the door to ongoing interference.
  • At a press conference during the July 2018 U.S.-Russia summit in Helsinki, Trump publicly sided with Putin over the United States when he rejected the U.S. Intelligence Community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
  • Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s Chief of Staff, reportedly instructed the President’s national security team not to even mention the issue of election security in front of Trump, who equated its discussion with questioning his legitimacy. 
  • In June 2019, Trump invited foreign countries to provide him with dirt on his political opponents, signaling that he’d “want to hear it” and refusing to acknowledge that taking the dirt instead of immediately reporting it to the FBI — as his own FBI director implored ⁠— would constitute election interference.
  • By resurfacing a debunked conspiracy theory during his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky, Trump lent credence to the lie that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election ⁠— a conspiracy that benefits Russia, Trump, and no one else.
  • In February 2020, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s defense attorneys claimed that Trump would be willing to provide Assange a pardon if he stated that Russia was not involved in leaking Democratic officials’ emails in the 2016 election.

Far from only Russia, Trump has sought election interference on his behalf from other countries, too:

  • Trump used $400 million in taxpayer-funded military aid and a White House visit as part of a months-long pressure campaign to attempt to force Ukraine to fabricate dirt on a Democratic rival that could be used in the upcoming election.
  • Trump in early October 2019 publicly called on China to investigate a political opponent’s son ⁠— after reportedly privately discussing his political rivals on a June 18 call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping that his administration has since tried to bury
  • Trump and Attorney General Barr sought help from the United Kingdom, Italy, and Australia in a Department of Justice investigation designed to discredit the Intelligence Community’s assessment of Russia’s 2016 election interference. 

All the while, Trump and his Republican allies have blocked nearly every effort to defend the 2020 election from foreign interference:

  • In July 2019, a bipartisan Senate report concluded that Russia targeted election systems in all 50 states. That same day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked two bills intended to safeguard American elections from foreign interference.
  • In September 2019, in the face of months of Democratic pressure, Trump and McConnell caved and allowed for $250 million in funding to secure our elections. But the package fell well short of what experts project is necessary and failed to include important accountability measures included in the Democrat’s House version of the legislation.
  • As of November 2019, nine election security bills — four with bipartisan support ⁠— sit ignored on McConnell’s desk waiting to be brought to the Senate floor.
  • In February 2020, some Republican lawmakers, rather than endorse defensive countermeasures, reportedly grew combative and challenged the intelligence community assessment that Russia had begun meddling in the 2020 election with a “preference” for President Trump.

We are former senior officials and policy experts, academics and civil society leaders who have seen first-hand how the United States is stronger, safer and more respected in the world when we stand strong with our allies, pursue principled diplomacy, and stay true to the values that have long defined America at home and abroad. www.nationalsecurityaction.org