Mueller report unveils American democracy under Russian attack

The Hill

Attorney General William Barr held a highly anticipated news conference on Thursday in which he previewed the release of the report by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Barr underscored that the investigation had not found collusion or conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign and that the special counsel did not reach a conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice.

Regardless of the decision to not reach a conclusion on obstruction of justice, and in the absence of evidence of a conspiracy, the report reveals that Russia has penetrated the very foundations of our democracy in an unprecedented way. The report explicates that the “Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome,” and that the Trump “campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”

{mosads}At more than 400 pages, the report goes on to detail the wide extent of Russian hacking and interference in the 2016 election, with certain fragments redacted largely due to their relevance to ongoing federal investigations. While the findings may not be sufficient to amount to criminal conspiracy by the president or his subordinates, it is clear that Russia calculated to interfere in our election, hampered our democratic process, and sowed deep and lasting divisions into American society.

This is not a Democratic interpretation or a Republican interpretation. This is a fact. The Russian success at tainting the American election process and undermining the very basis of our democracy is indicative of the crisis that the United States is experiencing both globally and within our nation, which was once regarded as the standard bearer of democracy.

Now that the threats posed by Russia have been fully exposed, it is imperative that our leaders in government work to heal our internal partisan divisions, which have been exacerbated throughout this process. Moreover, it is crucial for the Trump administration to use these findings to develop a cohesive foreign policy strategy to confront Russian aggression and protect the integrity of our elections going forward.

I have argued in these pages before for a foreign policy approach of assertive democratic idealism, whereby the United States maintains a global leadership role while at the same time working to protect our own interests. This is an international approach distinctly different from the isolationist and often erratic approach of the Trump administration.

However, American foreign policy failures and a sheer unwillingness to confront authoritarian regimes and threats to our democracy, namely Russia, began prior to President Trump taking office. During the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia, President Obama failed to retaliate effectively against Vladimir Putin and appeared to not fully acknowledge the true nature of the threat that this authoritarian regime poses around the globe. This attack on the Western order was just one step by Putin in his larger effort to destabilize the United States and our European allies.

The special counsel makes clear that the Russian calculation to interfere in our election was based on a similar desire to destabilize the United States and our global alliances on an unparalleled scale. Putin saw an opportunity in 2016 to further his own agenda, given the harsh rhetoric of Trump against NATO, his calls to withdraw from international treaties, and his general disregard for crucial international relationships. Now that the Mueller report is out and the investigation into conspiracy has come to an end, it is time for Democrats and Republicans to quit playing politics and focus on the real problem that Putin is still on the march. Just because the investigation is over does not mean that he is finished with his agenda.

Later this month, for the first time, Putin will be meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in an arrangement that will likely be beneficial for both authoritarian regimes, at the very least on the surface. For Russia, this summit represents the opening of a channel between two authoritarian leaders who have long been opposed to the United States and Western alliances and may have many similar interests globally. For North Korea, this summit acts to integrate the regime deeper into international affairs.

Furthermore, Putin met with President Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia, a NATO ally, on Thursday. This was the first time that the leader of a Baltic state and the leader of Russia have met in nearly a decade, which is arguably telling of growing Russian influence in the Baltic region, despite their troubled history. Taken together with his meeting with Kim, it is clear that Putin is on the move in both a territorial and material sense, as well as in an intellectual sense. In the past decade, the Russians have won loyalists to their anti-democratic, anti-Western, and anti-American ideological systems, and have only expanded their global influence. To be sure, the Mueller report paints a bleak picture of these ongoing global challenges.

Today, the only true hope for stabilizing the global climate and defending against further interference by authoritarian powers will come from a renewed commitment to American leadership that is informed by an idealistic, moral, yet also practical outlook toward the rest of the world.

Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. He is a political consultant, Fox News contributor, and the author of “Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership.”

Tags Democracy Donald Trump Government Robert Mueller Russia William Barr

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