In any other time, it would have been front-page news and ignited days or weeks of controversy. But last week, when a former top government official accused the president, for whom he once worked, of treasonous conduct, the story lasted nanoseconds and was blown away by the never-ending firehose of craziness and disinformation generated by the commander-in-chief and his crew. The tragedy here is not merely that Donald Trump escaped yet another scandal. It is that a fundamental and dire threat to the security of the United States did not receive sufficient attention and that American democracy remains in immediate danger.
I am referring to an interview retired General H.R. McMaster, who served as Trump’s national security adviser after Michael Flynn was bounced, gave to MSNBC, in which he said that Trump was acting like a traitor. This sounds hyperbolic. But how else to frankly characterize McMaster’s remarks? He stated that Trump “is aiding and abetting Putin’s efforts” to intervene in the 2020 presidential contest. This is a helluva accusation being leveled by a man who once was Trump’s most senior national security aide: the president is currently assisting a foreign adversary’s covert attack on the United States.
Why did McMaster’s accusation not produce a thunderclap that caused the world to stand still for a moment? There were articles in the New York Times and elsewhere about his charge. But the Times relegated the story to page 14. That’s hardly highlighting the issue. If you blinked, you easily could have missed this damning comment from McMaster, who noted that Vladimir Putin was currently mounting a “sustained campaign of political subversion against us” and that this operation was being “aided by a leader”—that is, Trump—“who doesn’t acknowledge” Moscow’s assault.
For months, news reports and Democratic members of Congress have noted that Putin, following up on his successful 2016 attack, is once again trying to sabotage an American presidential election to sow discord and help Trump win. Trump, though, has refused to address this. In fact, Trump and his minions have been blocking, suppressing, or discounting intelligence showing the Kremlin is attempting to subvert the 2020 election.
After intelligence officials in February told House lawmakers during a classified briefing that Russia was interfering to boost Trump, an irate Trump ousted Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire and replaced him with a loyalist (who was subsequently replaced by another loyalist). Last month, the former intelligence head at the Department of Homeland Security filed a whistleblower complaint claiming that members of the Trump administration pressured him to withhold intelligence assessments detailing Russian efforts to spread disinformation aimed at influencing the 2020 election “because it made the president look bad.” The current director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, has tried to restrict the sharing of intelligence on Russia’s clandestine endeavor with Congress, and the Trump administration has downplayed Russia’s actions, attempting to deflect attention to Iran and China, whose efforts to influence the 2020 election are far less developed and are more indirect. (Ratcliffe also has been declassifying information to assist the latest Fox disinformation campaign, which claims Hillary Clinton and Obama administration conspired in 2016 to tie Trump to Russia. This is nonsense. There was no secret scheme. When Moscow targeted the Democrats with a hack-and-leak operation, Clinton’s aides publicly raised legitimate questions about Trump’s and his adviser’s connections to Russia.)
On Tuesday, DHS finally released its delayed annual assessments on threats to the United States—which the whistleblower had claimed had been withheld to protect Trump—and the report stated that “Russia is the likely primary covert influence actor and purveyor of disinformation and misinformation within the homeland.” But in an interview, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf insisted that China posed the greater overall threat to the United States
Last week, in another little-noticed development, several Democratic senators demanded that Wolf release a document that shows Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting are “consistent with a foreign influence campaign.” They contended that this unclassified report produced by DHS’ Office of Intelligence and Analysis “demonstrates that a foreign actor is attempting to undermine faith in the US electoral system, particularly vote-by-mail systems, in a manner that is consistent with the rhetoric being used by President Trump, Attorney General Barr, and others.” They did not say that Russia was the culprit, but that’s a good guess