Republican or Democrat, all Americans should be concerned about a foreign actor’s attempts to exert influence in the nation’s political affairs. Whatever the conclusion of Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation, political leaders must ensure that democratic processes aren’t manipulated by geopolitical foes.
The investigation by special prosecutor Mueller has resulted in charges against three former Trump campaign officials on allegations both directly and indirectly related to ties with Russians. A 30-year-old campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, has already pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI.
Key lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — including Utah’s own Rep. Chris Stewart — who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, agree that there is clear evidence that Russia tried to influence the election. Mueller’s investigation aims to investigate if there was any collusion between the campaign and Russian officials. Russians tried to hack into the election systems of several states, and both intelligence officials and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee say Russians acted aggressively on social media and undertook other efforts to sway voters.
On the other side, President Donald Trump’s supporters now point to media reports that the Democratic National Committee paid for research aimed at uncovering Trump’s alleged connections to Russia. To do so, the DNC paid a company called Fusion GPS, which in turn subcontracted with a former British intelligence officer named Christopher Steele, who in turn got information from his contacts in Russia.
In other words, Hillary Clinton’s campaign may have used Russian influence in an effort to defeat Trump. To make matters worse, officials with the Clinton campaign and the DNC may have lied about their involvement in the research. Two New York Times reporters have tweeted that they faced stark denials when trying to pursue this story during the campaign.
Amid all this political clatter, it’s easy to lose sight of something important: Russia seems increasingly eager to influence the United States internal democratic processes. The dossier’s contents, of course, remain in dispute. One hopes the FBI, at least, confirmed some of it before deciding to secretly follow Trump’s foreign policy adviser last year. And while it’s not entirely clear how the charges facing Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and Papadopoulos relate directly to Russian influence, this should remain part of the investigation.
The next concern for the president, Congress and the nation must be about how to prevent foreign influences from trying to meddle in future elections.
This is of no small concern. Few things, if any, are as important for the integrity of the republic than assuring voters that elections are fair and independent, free from foreign influence. Incessant partisan noise on both sides doesn’t help that cause and creates the kind of discord between fellow citizens that Russian internet “trolls” are said to have tried to foment during the 2016 race.
Just as important should be a bit of soul-searching on the part of major party leadership. Campaigns long have felt the need to do whatever is necessary to uncover dirt about an opponent. Watergate certainly set the limit on that at burglary. Today, it would seem seeking foreign aid ought to be a defining limit as well.
Politics may be a nasty business, but it can’t be allowed to drift into the realm of posing threats to national security.