Why is President Donald Trump helping Russia and hurting the United States? That isn t a question that most Americans probably want to ask themselves right now, but they should.With the clock ticking toward Election Day, President Trump has inserted himself squarely into the election security threat matrix, undermining his own national security team and US democracy. By tweeting out and amplifying content officially attributed to a Russian influence operation and taking active measures against key election infrastructure, like the US Postal Service, and by failing to hold certain bad actors accountable, Trump himself is the biggest threat to a free and fair 2020 vote.
There are active foreign threats facing the US election. Last month, after facing pressure, primarily from Democrats, the US intelligence community (IC) made public information regarding certain foreign election security threats. The IC issued a second statement earlier this month that specific foreign actors are targeting US elections -- they cited China, Russia, and Iran. While their statements are helpful in terms of informing the public, overall, about various threat streams, they confusingly grouped threats of very different scales and scopes -- apples and oranges -- in the same basket.
Active, covert Russian influence operations are seemingly a bigger threat to Americans than public criticisms of the Trump administration from the ruling Chinese Communist Party. But the IC indicated that Russia prefers Trump to win the 2020 election, while China prefers him to lose. Trump may think it s more politically and personally expedient to focus on election interference from China and to disregard Russia s attacks. Plus it s clear he has never liked acknowledging that he is Putin s preference.
Shortly after the IC s statement, US National Security Adviser Robert O Brien said on CBS that China and other countries are attacking secretary of state websites -- which sounds like an allegation that China is engaged in cyberattacks against critical election infrastructure. That s the first we ve heard about this alleged Chinese operation -- the IC statements on election security threats made no mention of any Chinese cyberattacks. While the intelligence community has indicated that unnamed adversaries "seek to compromise US election infrastructure," and says it is monitoring "malicious cyber actors," we have not seen anything to corroborate O Brien s specific accusation against China.If O Brien s allegations are true, it would be a major escalation by China that should warrant some kind of response. But we haven t heard about any planned punitive measures by the administration against the individuals and entities involved in the recently disclosed election security threats. (A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said last week that Beijing has never interfered in US elections, but government statements should be taken with more than a grain of salt.)
That s a dangerous approach. With several foreign threats now public knowledge, it appears that the President is choosing to do nothing about them. Instead of taking action to counter foreign attacks on US democracy, he is playing dodgeball and failing to hold the attackers accountable. When recently asked about foreign meddling, he turned his ire on Democrats, saying it was they who were "meddling" by insisting on mail-in ballots. POTUS s failure to punish the actual attackers just empowers people like Vladimir Putin to keep attacking the US. Absent a policy response to their election interference, bad actors have no reason to stop while they re at it.
But not only has Trump failed to punish certain foreign actors, he s helping them.
The Intelligence Community s recent statement on election security threats said -- notably -- that Russia prefers Trump in 2020 and that Moscow is actively working to denigrate rival Joe Biden. The IC even specifically cited a player in Russia s influence operations against the United States -- Andriy Derkach. The statement said that Derkach, a Ukrainian lawmaker, "is spreading claims about corruption -- including through publicizing leaked phone calls -- to undermine former Vice President Biden s candidacy and the Democratic Party." Democrats have consistently raised concerns about Derkach s actions and work with certain Republican lawmakers.The US intelligence community could not have been clearer: Derkach is part of Russian attacks on US democracy.
As President, Trump had to have had access to the underlying, highly classified intelligence that led the IC to their conclusions about Derkach, not to mention access to the underlying, highly classified intelligence about Russian election attacks more broadly. Trump s not known for spending a lot of time reading classified intelligence. But with the information on Derkach now public, there s zero chance that the President isn t aware of the US intelligence community s conclusions. Yet he helped Russia intelligence with the click of a button -- on Sunday he retweeted content that Derkach leaked, allegedly of a conversation between Biden and former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. (Poroshenko reportedly has said the audio is bogus.) Quite simply, Trump helped spread Russian disinformation, and the reason seems obvious -- it s all about winning a second term.
When it comes down to it, Trump prioritizes his perceived personal needs over all of us -- the safety of our elections, our physical safety, and more. That s probably why Putin prefers him -- he s the antithesis of what a democratic leader looks like.
In addition to giving certain attackers a free pass and apparently aiding and abetting Russian influence operations against us, Trump and his appointees also appear to be engaged in active measures targeting key election infrastructure -- the USPS. Trump s Postmaster General appointee Louis DeJoy will testify before Congress next week about allegations that his recent operational changes will hamper the Postal Service s ability to support voting by mail in November. And Trump s spreading of disinformation about mail-in voting amounts to influence operations against the USPS as he tries to denigrate the service s perceived capabilities to handle mailed ballots.Actions speak louder than words. It s obvious that the USPS is going to face an unprecedented burden this election cycle. A patriotic president would do everything possible to shore it up so that Americans can vote safely from their homes. Trump, however, is doing just the opposite. In fact, Trump said he opposes additional funding for the Postal Service because he doesn t want to see it used for mail in voting. Instead of giving the USPS the resources it needs to support a free and fair election, Trump is trying to undercut it.
It goes without saying that a candidate confident of winning wouldn t try to stop Americans from voting. And a President who cares about his country s democracy wouldn t help the foreign actors attacking it. So as Americans tune in to the conventions and try to make sense of the election threats we re facing, they should be aware that President Trump himself is our primary source of election insecurity.