Russia’s election interference is a problem for the GOP

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Former FBI Director and special counsel Robert Mueller’s heavily redacted report has garnered a massive amount of media attention in the last several days, and rightly so. It’s the latest chapter — though almost certainly not the last — in the ongoing saga of corruption and misconduct that seems to be encoded into the current administration’s genetic material. Rightfully, people are outraged at President Trump and his cadre of enablers. But there’s another piece to the special counsel’s investigation and report that deserves more attention than it’s getting: the entire Republican Party apparatus has been implicated, not just President Trump.

No matter what you think Director Mueller’s report said or didn’t say about the conduct of this president or his campaign, one thing is clear: agents of the Russian government did interfere in the 2016 elections. Not some fat guy in his basement in New Jersey — the Russians. The U.S. intelligence community has clarified definitively that Guccifer 2.0 is Russian intelligence, and Guccifer 2.0 is who media outlets and Republican operatives worked with to disseminate illegally stolen materials. Director Mueller’s report lays this out in excruciating detail.

{mosads}The Russians didn’t limit their attacks to the Clinton campaign or the Democratic National Committee. I was working at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) when the Russians hacked us in 2016. They broke into our servers and stole our private work product just as surely as if they’d kicked down the door and rooted through file cabinets. And when they released what they stole, it wasn’t just sensitive campaign materials they released; many innocent people (including quite a few members of Congress) had to change their phone numbers, set up new email addresses, or even protect their newly-compromised identities.

On top of all that, after we’d told the world it was the Russians who’d hacked us, after we made it clear that this wasn’t an act of political retribution but one of international espionage, Republicans desperate to protect their majority played right into the Russians’ hand. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and Congressional Leadership Fund (the House GOP leadership’s super PAC) used that stolen material in their paid advertising. The two most important national organizations in GOP House campaigns were brazenly complicit in using Russian hacked materials, and they knew exactly what they were doing.

Understandably, those of us who were victims of this attack take umbrage at the suggestion that this is merely a Trump problem. This is a Republican Party problem.

In 2018, then-DCCC Chair Ben Ray Luján, who also was chair in 2016 when we were hacked, called on then-NRCC Chair Steve Stivers to jointly pledge not to use materials made public as the result of an unlawful hacking in House campaigns. Seems simple, right? The two parties coming together to make clear that we’re not going to help America’s adversaries accomplish their goals by weaponizing materials they steal and make public in order to disrupt our democratic process.

Well, the Republicans refused. I would say I wonder why, but deep down, I really don’t.

Now it’s a new election cycle, and both committees have new chairs. For the sake of our democracy and the integrity of our elections, I hope the Russians (or any other foreign adversary) don’t hack into either party’s servers and steal private and sensitive materials this time around. But in the event that they do, I’m glad the new DCCC Chair, Rep. Cheri Bustos, has already offered a similar pledge. I just hope the NRCC’s new Chair, Rep. Tom Emmer, has more decency than his two most recent predecessors.

Matt Fuehrmeyer is vice president at public affairs firm Summers Strategies, and was director of research and strategic communications at the DCCC from 2015-2018. Follow him on Twitter @mfuehrme.

Tags 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee Cheri Bustos Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Donald Trump Election Security Russia Steve Stivers Tom Emmer

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