On Sunday morning’s Meet The Press with host Chuck Todd, the longtime political correspondent brought on Barack Obama’s former chief of staff Denis McDonough to address lingering questions on what, if anything, could have been done to prevent Vladimir Putin and his Kremlin from interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
There has been some consternation in the news over whether President Obama acted improperly after learning from the heads of his intelligence agencies that Russia was attempting to infiltrate, corrupt, hack, and otherwise disrupt American democracy. Donald Trump himself has attempted, when he’s not calling Russian interference “fake news,” to blame “whatever actually did happen” on Obama.
But after turning the subject over and over not just in the news, but historically and in the court of public opinion, it seems that Congress had a larger role in the suppression of any evidence of Russian meddling than had previously been known — and that by the time Obama and his staff had sufficient evidence to make stronger statements than Congress had agreed on about the affair, it was likely far too late for it to make any difference whatsoever.
During McDonough’s Sunday appearance, Chuck Todd showed a clip of then-Vice President Joe Biden speaking in January before the Council on Foreign Relations about the subject, in which Biden asserts that the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, was not interested in a bipartisan statement:
“Mitch McConnell wanted no part of having a bipartisan commitment that we would say, essentially, ‘Russia’s doing this, stop.’ Bipartisan … So the die had been cast here.”
Todd then asked McDonough point-blank if he agreed with Biden — that the White House had not been able to be “as robust” about the whole thing precisely because of Mitch McConnell.
The former WH director told Chuck that there was a “lack of urgency” among the so-called Gang of Eight — specifically among Republicans — to even take briefings on the matter until more than a month after the debacle had been uncovered. After the four leaders in Congress — the Senate majority and minority leaders and their counterparts in the House of Representatives — had finally all been briefed, it took another three weeks to get their joint statement issued. And when it finally was issued, it was highly “watered down” — entirely at the insistence of Mitch McConnell.
Why Mitch wanted the statement about a hostile foreign power undermining our democracy to be as tepid and milquetoast as possible, we may never know. But hopefully, this will prevent at least the aforementioned court of public opinion from thinking that the lack of urgency or details in advance or the worst election meddling the United States has even been the victim of were because of Obama or the Democrats in Congress.
Watch the exchange here:
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