By THE EDITORIAL BOARD– The New York Times
A rival foreign power launched an aggressive cyberattack on the United States, interfering with the 2016 presidential election and leaving every indication that it’s coming back for more — but President Trump doesn’t seem to care.
The unprecedented nature of Russia’s attack is getting lost in the swirling chaos of recent weeks, but it shouldn’t be. American intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia took direct aim at the integrity of American democracy, and yet after almost five months in office, the commander in chief appears unconcerned with that threat to our national security. The only aspect of the Russia story that attracts his attention is the threat it poses to the perceived legitimacy of his electoral win.
If not for the continuing investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians — and whether Mr. Trump himself has obstructed that investigation — the president’s indifference would be front-page news.
So let’s take a moment to recall the sheer scope and audacity of the Russian efforts.
Under direct orders from President Vladimir Putin, hackers connected to Russian military intelligence broke into the email accounts of senior officials at the Democratic National Committee and of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta. They passed tens of thousands of emails to the website WikiLeaks, which posted them throughout the last months of the campaign in an attempt to damage the Clinton campaign.
Even more disturbing, hackers sought access to voter databases in at least 39 states, and in some cases tried to alter or delete voter data. They also appear to have tried to take over the computers of more than 100 local election officials in the days before the Nov. 8 vote.
There is no evidence that these efforts affected the outcome of the election. But that’s beside the point. The Russians have engaged in behavior like this in other countries, and they’re getting better at it. An American presidential election may be their biggest target to date, but it’s hardly their first. In the last decade they have hacked computer networks in Estonia, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, France, and Bulgaria — often stealing data. They have disseminated fake news stories and other disinformation to interfere with elections in other countries, as they did here.
It’s a global threat, and serious people treat it that way. In December, President Barack Obama responded by punishing Mr. Putin with a new round of sanctions, expelling dozens of suspected Russian intelligence operatives and barring access to estates they used for intelligence activities. On June 14, the Senate voted 97 to 2 to block Mr. Trump from lifting those sanctions unilaterally. Meanwhile, a majority of Americans accept the intelligence community’s consensus that Russia interfered with the election.
Yet Mr. Trump has been dismissive at best. As a candidate, he encouraged Russian hackers to find thousands of emails that he said Mrs. Clinton had illegally deleted. His response as president-elect to the reports that Russia had attempted to swing the election in his favor was to challenge the intelligence community’s credibility and say it was time “to move on.”
Even after taking office, he has remained skeptical. In a phone call with the director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Michael Rogers, he “questioned the veracity” of the finding of Russian interference, according to The Wall Street Journal.
When James Comey, the former F.B.I. director whom Mr. Trump fired in May, was asked during his Senate testimony this month whether President Trump had ever inquired about the interference campaign itself — as opposed to how the investigation into it might affect him personally — he said, “No.”
In other words, to the extent that Mr. Trump countenances the idea of a Russian attack, he seems to regard it as all about him. The “obsession” with it, he claims, is driven by Democrats upset over losing an election they expected to win.
This is demonstrably false. It also ignores the true threat. As Mr. Comey said of the attack: “It’s not a Republican thing or Democratic thing. It really is an American thing. They’re going to come for whatever party they choose to try and work on behalf of. And they’re not devoted to either, in my experience. They’re just about their own advantage. And they will be back.”
Even if the investigations find no evidence that Mr. Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians, the president’s refusal to accept the truth about this attack on our democracy denies reality and leaves the country vulnerable to more damaging attacks. The true obsession is Mr. Trump’s, with his own brand, and it’s distracting him from his most important duty — to protect the nation.