Donna Brazile: We must protect our elections from foreign interference

One thing is clear. We must know the extent of Russian campaign espionage and sabotage in our 2016 presidential election to guard against it occurring again in 2020.

The first 14 words of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report are: “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 Presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” Not to mention the Russians hacking into the voting systems of two Florida counties.

Russian President Vladimir Putin himself said that “on the whole (Mueller) had a very objective investigation.”

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Putin claimed there was “no evidence” of collusion between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign to help Donald Trump be elected president. But the Russian leader did not dispute Russia’s involvement in the most fundamental event of our democracy – elections – by suppressing our votes through an organized misinformation campaign.

The Mueller report identified at least 140 contacts between Trump associates and foreign nationals linked to Russia. All of those Trump associates who received overtures from the Russians should have reported those contacts to the proper U.S. law enforcement officials.

Instead, many of these Trump supporters lied about their ties to Russia. Several are now in jail and 12 Russian agents have been indicted.

Protecting our election system from foreign influence and interference must be a bipartisan undertaking.

“I am every bit as concerned about Russian interference as any Democratic senator,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Ultimately, to ignore the facts unearthed regarding Russia’s interference will prove to be more dangerous than the Russian interference itself. No matter who wins the 2020 presidential election, we will all lose unless we protect the security and integrity of our election system.

In July 2018, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., citing “indisputable evidence” of Russian interference in the 2016 election, said: “We understand the Russian threat, and I think that is the widespread view here in the United States among members of both parties.”

In April, two pieces of legislation were introduced in the Senate to deter Russia from meddling in our elections.

The Deter Act – a bipartisan effort by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Sen. Marco Rubio R-Fla. – would threaten stiff sanctions on Russia’s banking, energy and defense industries, and sovereign debt.

The Fire Act – sponsored by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. – would require all political campaign officials to report, within one week, any contacts with foreign nationals attempting to make campaign donations or otherwise coordinate with a campaign by offering information or services.

Meanwhile, along with millions of Americans, members of both parties in Congress have serious questions that must be addressed through congressional hearings and oversight. As Americans, the last thing we need is to sweep the Mueller investigation into the trash bin of hyper-partisan politics.

We must not ignore the storm clouds already gathering on the horizon of the 2020 elections.

NBC News reported this week that communications between associates of Yevgeny Prigozhin – a Kremlin-linked oligarch indicted by Mueller – reveal Russia’s “ambitious plans to stoke unrest and even violence” with a plot to “manipulate and radicalize African Americans” by exploiting “racial tensions well beyond Russia’s social media and misinformation efforts tied to the 2016 election.”

Ultimately, to ignore the facts unearthed regarding Russia’s interference will prove to be more dangerous than the Russian interference itself. No matter who wins the 2020 presidential election, we will all lose unless we protect the security and integrity of our election system.

When a national political party – any party – gets hacked, the election itself is hacked and the integrity of that election is compromised. And well beyond that, the democracy that our elections underpin and enable is endangered.

Simply stated, if people don’t believe in the integrity of our elections, they won’t believe in the election results.

For two years, President Trump treated the investigation into Russia’s election inference as if it was a partisan scam to deny the legitimacy of his victory in 2016.

However, the Mueller report establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Russia made a “sweeping” intervention into our election system with a view to harming only one of the candidates - former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The Russian disinformation campaign poisoned an already volatile election.

Yet, as Americans we accepted the election results. There was no appeal of the election to the Supreme Court. This acceptance alone ends the myth that the Mueller investigation was a partisan undertaking.

The Russians, or any nation that wants to undermine our democracy, do not need a specific result – they just need to create doubt that the results are valid.

A clean playing field lets both sides perform at their best. A muddy field with booby traps hidden by our nation’s enemy causes grievous harm to our democracy and both political parties.

No matter which side of the political aisle you’re on, allowing a foreign power to influence an American election means surrendering our nation’s power – and the power of your vote.

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We are supposed to close ranks and come together as one people after an election. But if enough people think an election was unfair, we’ll splinter and drift further apart.

Ultimately, that is exactly what the other side wants. And make no mistake, the other side isn’t Republican or Democrat – the other side is Russia.