Agreed, Sen. Grassley. Russia should "butt out" of U.S. elections.
Problem is, the White House that U.S Sen. Chuck Grassley has been so keen on protecting from his perch atop the Senate Judiciary Committee doesn't share his concern about election meddling and U.S. sovereignty. And Congress, Grassley included, lacks the temerity to cross President Donald Trump.
Iowa's venerable senior senator took to Twitter this past weekend and blasted the Kremlin's pro-Trump troll campaign that, to this day, sows confusion and dissent throughout the country. He demanded that Trump rip into Russian President Vladimir Putin the next time the two talk. And he labeled the Kremlin's campaign "cyber warfare" a day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued more than a dozen indictments against Russian trolls.
Good call, senator. It was the least you could do.
While Grassley's analysis was appropriate, there's good reason to doubt his desire to push the White House into legitimate action.
The Trump administration has, for more than a year, labeled the entire probe into election meddling "fake news." It's done battle with the entirety of the U.S. intelligence community. It's pounded law enforcement — a segment that it pledged to support — for doing its job. Trump's vanity — and unwillingness to at least admit that Russia was in the tank for him — has left the federal government seemingly incapable of securing elections or holding social media platforms accountable.
Recently, Trump even thumbed his nose at Congress when he refused to enforce sanctions against Russia that lawmakers approved by huge margins.
November's elections are on the horizon. States, with no federal additional funding or guidance, are scrambling to secure election infrastructure. And intelligence officials say 2018's elections will be a replay of 2016.
So, now what?
There's little reason to be confident that any legislative fix — bound to raise the ire of the White House — would spring from Grassley's Judiciary Committee. Just this past week, Grassley made the jaw-dropping admission that last year he ran interference for Attorney General Jeff Sessions during particularly grueling confirmation hearings. Grassley's stunning concession came during a legitimate burst of anger after Sessions, and the White House, undercut important bipartisan sentencing reform that Grassley has spent years crafting and tweaking.
Add to that, Grassley's weird obsessions with the right-wing red herrings, such as the Steele Dossier and the federally approved sale of uranium mines to Russia, and the Judiciary Committee chairman's commitment to legitimate oversight of the Trump White House is dubious at best. Just maybe, Grassley's been burned enough by a White House loyal only to itself that he might return to his former, oversight-focused self.
A slew of bills have been floated to, at the very least, attempt to grapple with the Kremlin's propaganda war. One would level additional sanctions against any country that interferes in a U.S. election. This one wouldn't do much good since Trump has already refused to impose sanctions on Russia and his congressional toadies just accepted it. Other bills would bolster election security and provide grants and other funding to states such as Iowa, which were target's of Russia's trolls and hackers.
Basically all sit stalled as the White House — defined by the president's ego and self-interest — screams "fake news" and "no collusion." They're collecting dust because Republicans in Congress refuse to push too hard against the White House.
Regardless of the Trump campaigns involvement with Russia — or lack thereof — the attack on an American election is threat to the republic. It's an attempt to weaken NATO and undermine liberal democracies throughout the west. It's been employed in Ukraine, Austria and, now the U.S., say intelligence communities.
It's cheap. It's effective. It's dangerous.
And yet, a few tweets might be the best response Americans can hope for from a Congress roosted squarely on the president's lap.