During a “side meeting” at the June 2019 G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, President Donald Trump was asked by a reporter, “Will you tell Russia not to meddle in the 2020 election?" Trump laughed and in an “off-the cuff" manner while sitting right next to Putin responded, “Yes, of course. Don’t meddle in the election.”
For his part, Putin smiled.
The levity of the moment when election hacking was raised between Trump and Putin in June was notably absent on July 24, when Special Counsel, Robert Mueller was asked during testimony before the House Intelligence Committee if he felt that the efforts of Russia to hack into the 2016 presidential election process was a “single attempt.” Mueller answered that it was not — that the hacking was going on as “we sit here” and “will continue in the next campaign.”
Mueller’s testimony was followed on July 25 by the release of a bipartisan report authored by the Senate Intelligence Committee. The report confirmed that election systems in all 50 states during the 2016 election campaigns were targeted by Russia and went undetected by both state and federal officials.
That same week, MSNBC analyst Lawrence O’Donnell asked Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times, Thomas Friedman, for his take on the importance of the upcoming 2020 presidential election. Freidman answered, “Not all elections are equal. … Some are a vote for great change like the Great Society. Others are a vote to save the country. This election is the latter.”
Friedman’s current warning reiterates the tenor of his Feb. 21, 2018, “Code Red” alert included in his column written for the Times, in which he expressed deep concern for the failure of President Trump to call out Putin and Russia for the attempted hacking of the 2016 U.S. election first reported by U.S intelligence agencies and attributed to Russian hackers.
As we approach the 2020 campaign for president, Congress and the U.S Senate, we must call for increased vigilance on the part of our intelligence agencies to identify and block persistent and nefarious efforts of any nation state, terrorist group or domestic activist whose words and actions show commitment to undermining and disrupting our election systems. We need to challenge the beliefs of some current political leaders, such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who insists that our present level of security against cyberattacks is adequate and needs no improvements.
Our challenge must extend to our current president, Donald Trump, who has shown a shocking tendency to side with autocratic leaders such as Putin even when faced with reports from his own intelligence agencies of covert and overt efforts to undermine our elections. We have much work to do to protect our right to determine the future direction of our country. Our ability to make our voices heard at the ballot box is at great risk. We must work together to assure the survival of a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”