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Chris Honoré: The Russians, the dossier and the memo

Part One

We find ourselves in the middle of a morality play wherein the stakes are high and our nation’s institutions continue to be given what seems like a perpetual stress test.

If you are following events with even a modicum of attention it becomes clear that we move from one weekly crisis to the next created in great part by Trump, who seems to thrive on chaos and confrontation.

While “Rocket Man” certainly poses an existential threat to our nation, it is Russia that poses an existential threat to our democracy. There is now a long and infamous list of Russia’s efforts to influence one of our most sacrosanct institutions: our fair and free elections. They use troll farms and bots to mimic voters in key election states and precincts while spreading fake news. They push propaganda using state-controlled media outlets such as Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik. Many of the social accounts pushed during the 2016 election looked like real voters in states such as Wisconsin and Michigan, accounts that were crafted to appear authentic and therefore were never questioned by voters. Russia’s trolls never had to set foot in the U.S.

As well, during the election, the Russians hacked the DNC and shared the stolen information with Wikileaks to be released so as to do maximum damage to Hillary Clinton.

Know that Russia, an autocratic state often referred to as a kleptocracy, with an economy the size of Italy, has devoted inordinate resources worldwide to disrupt and influence the elections of democratic nations, sowing distrust and doubt among its citizens, pitting one group against another.

Russia’s role in our own presidential election has been unequivocally established by our intelligence agencies and made known to Donald Trump in countless briefings. Russia is an adversarial power and a bad actor on the world stage while carrying on its efforts, even today, to destabilize democratic institutions.

I hope this doesn't sound too hyperbolic, but some have characterized Russia’s attempt to influence the outcome of the 2016 election as not just an assault on the U.S. but as an act of soft power war.

The appropriate, expected response by our commander in chief would be to turn to our Defense Department and our intel agencies and direct them to craft a comprehensive defense/offense (considering that our 2018 election will soon be upon us) and notify Putin et al. that we will regard any cyber-offensive from Russia as a hostile act and we will respond accordingly.

What continues to puzzle after almost two years is Trump’s consistent reaction, first as a candidate and now as president. He has gone out of his way to remain silent regarding Russia’s interference in our election as well as those worldwide (France is an example).

There are countless questions that continue to be unanswered. One would certainly be why Trump seems to court Russia (read Putin) instead of punishing it for its nefarious meddling. Just prior to leaving office, President Obama expelled some 30 Russians accused of spying and put in place economic sanctions.

Six months ago, both houses of Congress voted overwhelmingly in favor of additional sanctions against Russia for its interference in our 2016 election. The last day to do that was Jan. 30 of this year. Since Trump took office not one sanction (such as prohibiting nations from buying Russian arms) has been levied. The Trump administration’s rationale has been that just the threat of further sanctions was deterrent enough, even as Russia continues its destabilizing efforts. But then, Trump has consistently refused to acknowledge Russia’s interference in the U.S. democratic process.

In the last two weeks, the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence, whose name appears on a persona non grata list and is personally sanctioned, was invited to the U.S. to meet with the administration’s intel officials just outside Washington (including other Russians). The reason is unclear, and the meeting was never disclosed by anyone in the Trump administration.

And stunningly, the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have chosen to aggressively investigate not Russia but our own Department of Justice and the FBI But more about that in part two.

— Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.