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Who is actually winning in the Russia investigation? Are the Russians?

Who is actually winning in the Russia investigation?  Are the Russians?
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In the aftermath of the release of the House Intelligence Committee’s report on Russia interference in the 2016 presidential election, some have called for the special counsel’s investigation to be shut down. Others call the investigation a “witchhunt” and the allegations of interference a politically inspired “hoax.”

Some have focused their ire not on the country that attacked our republic but, instead, on our own Justice Department and intelligence community by calling them corrupt and part of a fictitious “deep state.” Some have even reportedly gone so far as to draw up articles of impeachment directed at Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinTrump turns his ire toward Cabinet members Ex-deputy attorney general says Justice Dept. 'will ignore' Trump's threats against political rivals The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump's erratic tweets upend stimulus talks; COVID-19 spreads in White House MORE. On what grounds? That is unclear.

We hear it time and time again: The nation is divided, polarized, tribal and it is getting worse. The Russians have conducted and continue to conduct a highly successful intelligence operation against this nation by exploiting our polarized political environment.

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As someone who has worked in law enforcement, counter-intelligence and homeland security for more than 32 years — for both Republicans and Democrats — it is painful to watch Russia’s success and how our political divide has undermined our ability to protect ourselves.

As the public discourse regarding Russia’s interference continues its rapid descent into the cesspool of partisan tribalism, it’s worth taking a moment to review what we actually know.

First, the U.S. intelligence community assessed with high confidence that Russia has targeted the U.S. through a form of hybrid warfare with the intent of weakening the nation by sowing discord among the public and undermining confidence in our government at home and abroad.   

Part of this ongoing effort included interfering in the 2016 presidential election and by directly aiding the efforts of the Trump campaign. The current leadership of the intelligence community stands by those findings and, furthermore, believes Russia has and will continue targeting the United States.  

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Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee agree that Russia interfered in our 2016 presidential election and it is highly likely it will try to do the same in the 2018 elections. Their recent report included a number of valuable recommendations intended to safeguard future elections.

Second, through the efforts of the special counsel, we now know there is a provable criminal conspiracy of Russian individuals and entities that were involved in Russia's efforts. The special counsel continues to investigate whether there were any U.S. persons involved in that conspiracy.

Third, we know there are a number of highly unusual interactions and relationships involving persons associated with the Trump campaign and Russian individuals and organizations potentially associated with Russia's efforts.

Some of these relationships and interactions served as the basis for criminal charges being filed against individuals; others are still being investigated. We know a number of people, when asked about these interactions, lied — and any investigator will tell you that lying generally infers consciousness of guilt.

Finally, as more facts are uncovered, it appears that the so-called Steele Dossier is not completely untrue. It is important to remember that the “dossier” is a series of raw intelligence reports consistent with those that an experienced intelligence case officer would document from human sources.

Over time, we have come to learn that much of what is contained in these reports is consistent with other information obtained through separate intelligence gathering and investigative efforts. And, while some have sought to mischaracterize and dismiss the contents of the reports, the reality is that much of the information contained in the “dossier” has been fully validated, some has been partially validated and, to date, little has been discredited. 

Russia's ongoing influence and propaganda campaign against the U.S. represents an existential national security threat to our nation. We need to fully understand how it conducted and continues to conduct operations so we can counteract them. We need to fully understand whether they worked with any Americans and how they there were able to co-opt our political process and societal divisions to accomplish their goals.

This is why the investigation of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE is important. This is why Congress needs to ethically, honestly and objectively fulfill its constitutionally mandated oversight responsibilities of the executive branch.

There should be no greater priority for our nation’s leadership than to counteract this existential threat to our national security. We should already be taking steps to protect state election systems from being penetrated or tampered with. We should be considering how best to counteract the dissemination of propaganda and false information via social media. We should be taking steps on the global stage to dissuade Russia or any other nation from conducting these types of attacks again.

Politics is a rough business — and those who are successful are the ones who seek to win at all costs. Yet, I cannot help but wonder how future historians will view this time in our nation's history. How will they interpret the efforts of those who sought to discredit our justice and intelligence institutions? 

Will they conclude that those who called the Russia investigation a “hoax” were simply participants in the blood-sport that has become our nation's political process — or will they conclude that some political figures turned their backs on their oaths to defend this nation from all enemies, foreign and domestic and aided an adversarial nation in its attacks against the United States?

John Cohen is a professor at Rutgers University, New Brunswick and director of the University's Center for Critical Intelligence Studies. He has worked in law enforcement, homeland security and national security for more than 32 years, including as a police officer, federal agent, congressional investigator, policy adviser in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and acting Undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.