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The disturbing signal Trump's silence sends to Russia

TRUMP AND RUSSIA
CNN)Every
week, I offer a glimpse of the kind of intelligence assessments that
are likely to come across the desk of the president of the United
States, modeled on the President's Daily Briefing, or PDB, which the
director of national intelligence prepares for the president almost
daily.
Here's this week's briefing:
Now that Trump's longtime friend and informal adviser Roger Stone has been indicted ,
both our enemies and allies around the world can see that special
counsel Robert Mueller has evidence to believe that senior Trump
campaign officials spoke with Stone about Wikileaks and that a senior
Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any
additional releases from Wikileaks, an organization that published
information that Russia stole from Americans.
The President's "witch hunt"
response to the special counsel's indictment -- especially when
considered along with his response to previous ones -- will likely be
interpreted by many around the world as a sign that when it comes to
Russia, he's conflicted. By crying witch hunt louder than he decries
Russia's attack, he's setting us up for another very dangerous election
season. His failure to condemn illegal Russian behavior, especially when
it involves his own associates and family, will probably be interpreted
as condoning it. That opens the US to a lot of risk going forward.
Presidents
are expected to rely on their team to go through policy processes so
that they can make a decision that's based on one thing and one thing
only -- what's best for the national security of the United States.
Conflicts of interest aren't supposed to enter the Situation Room.
Neither ethical issues and personal business goals nor criminal activity and counterintelligence concerns should
impact a president's decision-making process. If other considerations
permeate presidential thinking, Americans' national security becomes
hostage to a president's personal agenda.
The President's failure to take a few basic steps to protect our country can cause America great harm.
Condemn working with Russia
The
charges against Stone are serious unto themselves -- obstruction of
justice, witness tampering, and making false statements are felonies.
But the President seems intent on saying there is "no collusion,"
rather than addressing the allegation that a member of his campaign was
directed to contact Stone about additional data drops from Wikileaks,
an organization that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called a "non-state hostile intelligence service."
And it's not just this most recent
indictment. Getting the President to clearly state that he believes his
own intelligence community over Vladimir Putin on Russian interference
in the 2016 presidential election has been a Herculean task. According
to officials who spoke to the Washington Post, an
interpreter who was present during a meeting in July 2017 in Hamburg
said Putin denied Russian involvement in the US election. Trump
reportedly responded by saying, "I believe you."
Even at the Helsinki Summit last July, Trump couldn't articulate five simple words: Russia interfered in our election.
An
unconflicted president would at a minimum refrain from undercutting the
law enforcement professionals who are working to keep America safe by
conducting the special counsel's counterintelligence investigation. And,
while it is appropriate to refrain on commenting on Roger Stone's guilt
while he awaits trial, an unconflicted president would reaffirm that
Russian cyber attacks and information laundering to help any candidate
is illegal (we've indicted and sanctioned
Russians for it). He would also clearly articulate that Americans who
engage with foreign countries who are attacking us during our elections
will be punished regardless of whose campaign they're on.
Lay it all out there: Educate
It's been more than two years since the Department of National Intelligence issued an unclassified report laying
out why and how Russia is attacking our democracy. But the President
discounts much of this January 2017 report, which includes the
conclusion that Russia preferred Trump as a candidate. He has continuously discounted the intelligence community's assessments on Russia.
If the President was unconflicted, he
would ask the DNI for an updated report so that he could keep the
American people informed. It's unclear whether the President censors his
intelligence community's analysis, discounts it, or simply dislikes
what they say, but the American people are not fully aware of what's
happening. An unconflicted president would want the American people to
know as much as possible so that each and every one of us can be more
vigilant, especially as the 2020 election cycle gets into full swing.
Arm your team: Put up a fight
With
the 2020 presidential election cycle already underway, we know that our
democracy is vulnerable. The intelligence community has assessed that Russia, Iran, and China tried
to interfere with our 2018 midterm elections, and we also know that
Russia tried to help get President Trump elected back in 2016 because
they thought he would pursue policies that helped them.
After
Trump's first two years in office, the Russians have probably found
that they bet on the right horse, and it's likely they'll take steps to
support his candidacy in 2020.
Identifying
a threat is just the first step in protecting our country. Once
assessments are made, presidents review and decide on policy responses.
For all of those reasons, an
unconflicted president would do a thorough assessment of where and how
foreign actors have tried to attack us before, maintain up to date
assessments, and devote real resources to defending our country. This
involves mitigating any vulnerabilities in our election infrastructure
(including campaign officials who may be vulnerable to manipulation by
foreign countries) and helping all candidates protect themselves.
But
defense is just part of the response -- actively deterring foreign
interference is just as important. When the administration does things
like lifting Russia sanctions prematurely (and faiingl to include all the details surrounding the agreement in a letter to Congress) or just not implementing sanctions at all , we're only encouraging all kinds of bad behavior because the costs associated with attacking us appear to be minimal.
An
unconflicted president would ensure that our response to illegal
Russian activity of all kinds, including election interference, is as
aggressive as possible as we head into another election cycle.
While speculation abounds as to whether President Trump's Russia policy
is in fact driven by something other than what he thinks is best for our
country, the administration's oft-repeated and oft-discounted claim
that President Trump has been tougher on Russia than his predecessors
misses the point -- we are still under live attack by Russia. An
unconflicted president would do everything he could to stop that attack.
President Trump's failure to do so is a likely signal to Russia -- and
others -- that conflicts of interest are penetrating the President's
decision-making.

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