The Corner

White House

McConnell and Russian Election Interference

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell says he won’t bring legislation to the floor to protect special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation. The incident has inspired liberals to revive their complaints that McConnell put party before country in the last weeks of the 2016 election. The charge, which I have never quite understood, is based on a Washington Post report from December 9, 2016. The report concerns a mid-September meeting. Here’s the relevant passage:

[T]he White House wanted congressional leaders to sign off on a bipartisan statement urging state and local officials to take federal help in protecting their voting-registration and balloting machines from Russian cyber-intrusions.

Though U.S. intelligence agencies were skeptical that hackers would be able to manipulate the election results in a systematic way, the White House feared that Russia would attempt to do so, sowing doubt about the fundamental mechanisms of democracy and potentially forcing a more dangerous confrontation between Washington and Moscow. . . .

According to several officials, McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.

So . . . did Russian efforts to interfere with voter registration and balloting machines succeed because McConnell vetoed a statement? I have seen nothing to suggest they did. Did a failure by states to take federal help against Russian cyber-intrusion cause any adverse consequences at all? I’ll concede that doubt about democracy has been sown, but I don’t see how the bipartisan statement would have prevented that. Finally, was McConnell right to have doubts about the underlying intelligence, either because it turns out to have been overstated or because, while correct, it didn’t have much evidence behind it at the time? I don’t see how anyone can answer that question on the basis of what the Post story tells us.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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