Russian efforts to interfere in last year’s presidential election amount to “an act of war,” Sen. Ben Cardin said Wednesday, and to question otherwise plays right into Russia’s hands.“You’re falling into Russia’s trap.
Senator Ben Cardin, top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, joined MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Wednesday evening to reiterate the serious threat posed by Russia to American and Western institutions.
Earlier that day, Cardin’s office had prepared an omnibus report titled: Putin’s Asymmetrical Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for U.S. National Security
The report “finds that President Trump’s refusal to publicly acknowledge the threat posed by the Russian government has hampered efforts to mobilize our government, strengthen our institutions, and work with our European allies to counter Putin’s interference in democracies abroad.”
“Never before in American history has so clear a threat to national security been so clearly ignored by a U.S. president, and without a strong U.S. response, institutions and elections here and throughout Europe will remain vulnerable to the Kremlin’s aggressive and sophisticated malign influence operations,” Cardin’s report also adds.
MADDOW: So, you look at 19 different European countries. You give very readable, understandable case studies about on how Russia has tried to interfere with a lot of our allies and a lot of nations, particularly in what they like to think of as their geographical sphere of influence. You write about how other countries have come up with strategies to try to fend them off.
Do those things seem to you like things that could work in the United States, that we should be stealing and adopting for our own use?
CARDIN: Oh, absolutely. What we need is presidential leadership. We need a game plan to recognize that Russia is trying to bring down our democratic institutions.
After the 2016 election, the European capitals all took steps to protect their election systems. We saw, for example, that in France, they took actions recognizing that Russia would be active in their campaign and they were successful in blocking impact of Mr. Putin’s attempts in that election.
We saw the same thing happened in Germany. We saw where Russia attempted a coup in Montenegro in order to block them from entering NATO.
Those countries have taken steps to protect themselves because they recognize that Russia is trying to bring down their Democratic institutions.
In the United States, our president has not taken this seriously. He’s basically said he’s not even sure that Russia was involved in our elections when we know for sure that they were.
So, we don’t have presidential leadership. We don’t have a national game plan that recognizes the risk that Russia presents to our national security.
MADDOW: One of the things that I found distressing on just sort of an institutional level is that you highlight the State Department’s Global Engagement Center as a key part of the State Department that Congress has identified as a place, a resource within our government that could be very helpful, could be very useful in terms of combating Russian influence operations.
And you say that Congress identified that office, basically ordered that that office be used for that purpose, particularly given what Russia did in the 2016 election. But then under Rex Tillerson at State Department, under President Trump, despite those instructions from Congress, that just hasn’t happened, they just haven’t done it.
That makes me worry that this isn’t just sort of lackadaisical unwillingness to recognize the scope of the problem. It seems like active defiance.
CARDIN: Well, this problem has been identified by Congress, by the Senate. We have, as you pointed out, appropriated resources to work with our Europeans to protect us against these cyberattacks. We know that Mr. Putin uses criminal elements to try to carry out his designs.
So, we provided a game plan to work with our European friends in order to develop the defense mechanisms. The administration was very slow to even try to get that started. To this date they still have not fully engaged with the tools that have been provided by Congress.
So, there has been — I use the term negligence. The president has been negligent in dealing with this problem, and this is a matter of high national security concern.
Russia is trying to compromise our democratic institutions. It’s not just elections. They want to bring down our way of government. They want corruption to reign. That’s how Mr. Putin has been able to accumulate tens of billions of dollars of illegal wealth. So, we’ve got to take action and that’s what Congress has authorized, and this administration is not following through.
MADDOW: Senator, one last question for you on this. I recognize, this is a comprehensive report. A big 200-page report. It’s a minority staff report from the Committee on Foreign Relations. It means it’s the Democrats.
Did you approach the Republican chairman, Senator Corker, and the other Republicans on the committee about working on this with you and they not want to do it? Or did you Democrats just set out to do this on your own from the outset?
CARDIN: Rachel, in January, very early in 2017, I made a decision on behalf of the Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that this story had to be told. The American people had to understand what Russia, what Mr. Putin was doing in our elections.
And it’s not isolated. It’s much broader. It deals with an overall game plan to try to compromise democratic institutions in Europe and in the United States.
I did go over this with Senator Corker. He was fully aware of what we were doing. It is our priority to get it started. We worked with Republicans on our committee throughout the year, but we wanted to make sure that this report could be released in a timely way.
We believe it’s not partisan report. We believe the recommendations we make will be embraced because of the need for national security. So, we — this is not partisan report, but this was priority that Democrats brought in 2017.