10 factors making Russia election interference the most enduring scandal of the Obama era

10 factors making Russia election interference the most enduring scandal of the Obama era
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There’s at least one conclusion on which there’s largely bipartisan agreement: Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election. No vote tallies were changed, according to Obama administration intel analyses, but the interference was serious enough that many insist drastic steps must be taken to avoid a repeat in 2020.

Now, with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE’s exhaustive investigation over and no Trump official charged with taking part in any Russki scheme, Russian election interference may turn out to be the most persistent scandal of the Obama era.

To date, it’s also one of the most puzzling.

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Depending on which set of facts we examine, Russian interference was alternately foreseeable and unpredictable; expected, yet surprising.

The official reaction to it has begun to unfold as a Keystone Cops-type response by top Obama intel officials. They appear to have been so distracted by political motivations that they lost sight of the very danger they now claim threatens our democracy.

Here are 10 reasons why Russia election interference seems set to become the most enduring scandal of the Obama administration.

  1. Missed opportunity. Perhaps the best shot at disrupting Russian interference came as early as fall 2015. That’s when the FBI supposedly detected successful efforts by Russian hackers to breach Democratic National Committee (DNC) computers. For reasons unknown, the systems and others remained vulnerable to further attacks.

By July 2016, the DNC and FBI both had concluded Russians were responsible for additional hacks. Yet, the DNC reportedly refused to allow the FBI to examine its servers and data in a timely fashion and — for reasons unexplained — the FBI failed to confiscate them. Obviously, when national security is at stake, the FBI does not need permission to examine evidence. A senior law enforcement official told CNN the DNC’s withholding of crucial evidence “caused significant delays and inhibited the FBI from addressing the intrusion earlier.” If the FBI (then led by Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyMisfired 'Hurricane': Comey's team abused Carter Page and the FBI Trump rebukes FBI chief Wray over inspector general's Russia inquiry The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - Democrats to release articles of impeachment today MORE) had acted quickly and definitively to examine the evidence, could that have prevented further interference?

  1. Denial. On Oct. 18, 2016, President Obama made a comment that rivals his “ISIS is the jayvee team” remark in terms of its wrongheadedness. He declared that “no serious person” would suggest America’s elections could be rigged. “There's no evidence that that has happened in the past or that there are instances in which that will happen this time,” said Obama.

At the time, the president was addressing a reporter’s question about voter fraud. But it’s significant to note that he offered this answer smack dab in the middle of the supposed Russia targeting of our election process. His failure to take the obvious opportunity to address this vulnerability implies he did not fully appreciate the threat, or was unwilling to confront it. Instead, he left the impression that the U.S. election process is impenetrable and outside interference is impossible.

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Obama also infamously mocked Republican nominee Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' Mellman: Looking to Iowa Potential Dem defectors face pressure on impeachment MORE in 2012 when Romney suggested Russia was a foe to be reckoned with. This begs the question of whether problems could have been staved off if the president had taken Russia more seriously.

  1. Inadequate response. Actions that President Obama and his top intel officials did take to mitigate Russian interference proved woefully inadequate. After telling reporters that Russian intelligence operatives attacked Democrats’ computer systems, then-CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanWhere was American counterintelligence? Krystal Ball: Yang's MSNBC boycott shows network has 'officially lost the left' Trump predicts 'historic' conclusions from DOJ's watchdog report on 'spying' MORE and his colleagues “privately warned their Russian counterparts not to persist with their active measures” and “Obama himself told Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinPavlich: Impeachment does Russia's bidding Russian diplomat says election meddling wasn't discussed at White House, contradicting Trump Trump warned Russia's foreign minister against election interference, White House says MORE not to interfere in the election.” CNN notes: “These warnings did not work.”
  1. Failure to disclose. Obama intel officials secretly told the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that Russia was targeting the Trump campaign, but paradoxically kept the information secret from the Trump campaign. Experts say legitimate efforts to protect national security typically would include notifying the supposed target of the spying. Intel officials arguably should have alerted all the political campaigns and warned them to be on the lookout, asking if any suspicious contacts had been made.

Recall the FBI had notified the DNC earlier, after determining it had been targeted by Russians. The decision not to likewise loop in the Trump campaign regarding the supposed targeting suggests intel officials were not focused on protecting national security but hoping to entrap Trump campaign officials.

  1. Targeting Trump. Instead of going after the Russians and working to protect the Trump campaign from possible infiltration, intel officials targeted the Trump campaign. They applied for numerous secret wiretaps to surveil Trump associates. In the process, they apparently violated strict FBI Woods Procedures designed to prevent false or unverified information from being used to obtain wiretaps.
  1. Suspicious timing. Russia’s election interference certainly was not new on election day. Yet only after Trump was elected (instead of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Trump supporters at Pa. rally 'upset' after Democrats introduce impeachment articles Hillary Clinton documentary to premiere at Sundance MORE) did President Obama assign his intel officials to issue a public report about Russia’s scheme. And only then did he pursue punishment, including sanctions and expulsion of some Russian diplomats from the United States.
  1. Blame game. After Trump was elected, some of the very Obama officials who failed to prevent Russian interference began a campaign of media leaks and deflection, pointing to Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' Lawmakers dismiss Chinese retaliatory threat to US tech MORE and his associates. These officials included FBI Director Comey, CIA Director Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert ClapperTrump predicts 'historic' conclusions from DOJ's watchdog report on 'spying' The curious timeline for taking down Trump Fairness, tradition, and the Constitution demand the 'whistleblower' step forward MORE, national security adviser Susan Rice and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha PowerSamantha Jane PowerFormer US envoy Samantha Power: Trump finding 'new ways to compensate Putin for election interference' Former UN ambassador: Republicans have made a 'devil's bargain' to accept Trump Obama U.N. ambassador: Trump has 'endorsed ethnic cleansing' MORE.
  1. Ignorance. As they investigated foreign interference, intel officials apparently overlooked the role of interests besides the Russians, including Russia’s adversary Ukraine and the British. Ex-British spy Christopher Steele built and peddled the anti-Trump “dossier.” Former U.K. ambassador to Russia Sir Andrew Wood had a November 2016 meeting with Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainEx-Rep. Scott Taylor to seek old Virginia seat Man acquitted over tweet offering 0 to killing an ICE agent Lessons of the Kamala Harris campaign MORE in Nova Scotia, where Wood told him about Steele’s anti-Trump dossier.
  1. Russia’s link to FBI and Democrats. The FBI overlooked the apparent, admitted “collusion” between Steele and Kremlin-connected Russians who provided opposition research against Trump — some of it false — for the dossier. Then, the FBI used the Kremlin-connected Russian research, in part, to obtain wiretaps against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Why will Russia election interference in 2016 prove to be more enduring than other scandals? A great deal of money and effort has been spent to dismiss other scandals along partisan lines. In this case, people in both political parties agree the interference happened — and that it happened on Obama’s watch. His intel officials appear to have been either distracted, conflicted or asleep at the switch.

Whatever the case, they were inarguably ineffective.

Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) is an Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times best-sellers “The Smear” and “Stonewalled,” and host of Sinclair’s Sunday TV program, “Full Measure.”