Trump Hasn't Bothered To Protect the U.S. From More Russian Meddling, Says Report by Democrats

President Donald Trump concludes his remarks at the American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S., January 8. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

A new report by Congressional Democrats has called out President Donald Trump for a failure to protect America from what they describe as a growing threat of Russian election meddling this year and during the 2020 presidential elections.

"Never before in American history has so clear a threat to national security been so clearly ignored by a U.S. president," states the minority report by Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee published Wednesday.

"The current President of the United States has barely acknowledged the threat posed by [Russian President] Mr. [Vladimir] Putin's repeated attacks on democratic governments and institutions, let alone exercised the kind of leadership history has shown is necessary to effectively counter this kind of aggression," the report, released by the committee's top Democrat Senator Ben Cardin, finds in its opening paragraphs.

Last year America's key intelligence agencies concluded Moscow worked to tilt the election toward Trump through a hacking campaign that targeted both U.S. political parties and the spread of misinformation through Kremlin-connected channels. The agencies published their unclassified findings in a report in January 2017.

The Democrats' report about the implications of Russian election meddling on U.S. national security details the history of Kremlin election interference campaigns and identifies them as a growing threat, not just in the U.S. but around the world.

Russian efforts have been seen in Eastern Europe and also targeted American allies such as Germany, France, Italy, the U.K. and Scandinavia, with actions including hacking, misinformation campaigns, trolling, and funding for fringe and extremist political parties and groups.

Read more: Jeff Sessions' refusal to learn about Russian hacking puts U.S. in danger, Obama official says

During testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in October, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that the U.S. was not prepared to defend itself against meddling by Russia or any other state or non-state attackers.

Asked what steps he's taken to protect elections, Attorney General Sessions says, "I have not followed through to see where we are on that."

— ABC News (@ABC) November 14, 2017

"I have not followed through to see where we are on that," Sessions said when asked during separate testimony to the House Judiciary Committee if he had taken any specific steps to protect America's midterm elections in 2018.

In June last year the Obama administration's former cybersecurity czar, Michael Daniel, told Newsweek that he was troubled by the lack of action in Sessions' Justice Department to protect against the threat. Cyber security is an "important mission for the Justice Department," he said after Sessions testified in the Senate on June 13 that he hadn't asked for an official briefing on Russia's election meddling efforts.

During a trip to Asia last November, where he met with Russian President Putin, Trump told reporters that he was tired of bringing the subject up with Russia's leader.

"Every time he sees me, he says, 'I didn't do that,'" Trump told the press on Air Force One. "And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it." Trump then called the former leaders of the intelligence agencies that found Russia interfered in the election "political hacks."

He later clarified his position on the matter, stating "I am with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with the leadership."

Several probes into Russia's election interference are ongoing in Congress and an independent investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller is also examining the issue.

"If the United States fails to work with urgency to address this complex and growing threat, the regime in Moscow will become further emboldened," the Democrat report warned, suggesting that the 2018 midterm and 2020 presidential elections are being left vulnerable.

Cybersecurity for U.S. elections is notoriously difficult to coordinate at the federal level since each state operates and maintains its own system, say cybersecurity experts.

Yet the new Democrat report lists several actions the Trump administration could take to build defenses. These include media monitoring and fact-checking initiatives to identify and counter propaganda, better media literacy programs in the U.S. education system, borrowing tactics from allies such as France and Germany, which have worked "to expose and blunt the dissemination of fake news," and bolstering domestic cybersecurity.

"Yet it must be noted that without leadership from the president, any attempt to marshal such a response will be inherently weakened at the outset," the report said, adding "there must be a bipartisan sense of urgency so the United States immediately begins taking the steps necessary to fortify and protect our democracy from Mr. Putin's malicious meddling."

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