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We must not allow Russia to pervert our elections

In 2016 election, the Russian decided that it would be to their benefit to elect Donald Trump and worked to secure that result. They perverted our presidential election process and threatened the integrity of our voting system.

While the Muller investigation did not find any evidence of a conspiracy or collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and the Russians, they did find indisputable evidence of “Russians interference.” The 440-page Muller Report tells a detailed story of “multiple systematic” efforts to sow discord and help Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. More specifically, the investigation found that Russian military intelligence operation conducted a multi-stage intrusive cyber hacking attack operation and orchestrated a coordinated social media campaign designed to defame Hillary Clinton. In a democracy that is very serious stuff.

In a October 22, 2018 article in The Guardian entitled “How Russia cyber attack helped Trump to US Presidency” Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the Elizabeth Ware Packard Professor of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, wrote this about the Russian cyber attacks: “hacked content helped Trump legitimize three key accusations: the general election was being rigged by the Democrats, the mainstream media could not be trusted because it was in league with Clinton, and the former first lady’s own campaign team questioned her fitness for office.” Further, in her more recent book Cyberwar, Jamieson presents powerful, evidence-based analysis that shows how Russian interference likely titled the 2016 election to Donald Trump.

To date, President Trump has taken no further retaliatory action against the Russians for meddling in our election and attempting to sabotage our democracy beyond the Muller team’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals, a Russian troll farm and two Russian shell companies. Strikingly, in the Presidents recent 90-minute phone discussion with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he did not even bring up the Muller findings. When asked after the conversation whether he had specifically warned President Putin about sabotaging our elections in 2020, President Trump answered: “We didn’t discuss that.”

There has been no discussion of retaliating against the Russians for their direct attack on our democracy. More specifically, the Trump administration has not proposed expanding sanctions against Russia, imposing travel restrictions more broadly on Russian citizens or expanding support for dissident groups in Russia that support democracy. Nothing has happened since the President accepted Putin’s “extremely strong and powerful” denial of interference in Helsinki. This is in spite of FBI Director Christopher Wray warning that this kind of attack against our democracy that occurred in 2016 will almost certainly happen again in 2020. This is not surprising given the President’s continued infatuation with President Putin.

Something must be done to educate the American people about what the Russians did. This should be the focus of the upcoming hearings in Congress relating to the Muller report – not impeachment. The hearings should expose the details of what the Russians did and what we all need to look out for in the future. More specifically, examples of fake news that were posted on Facebook should be presented.

Since the Trump administrations is unwilling to address the cyber attacks launched by Russia, it is incumbent on public interest groups, without a partisan political agenda, to mount a broad campaign to educate Americans on how to determine what information online is true and what is not. Television and radio stations should provide free air time for public service advertisements that highlight what to look out for and what to do if you have reason to believe a particular post is not true.

Lastly, we must do everything we can, at the state level, regardless of costs, to ensure that our election systems are secure especially in light of recent revelations that Russian government agents allegedly tried to access voter registration systems in 21 states. In Illinois the database of 500,000 voters was breached, viewed and potentially copied by hackers and in Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently indicated that there was evidence that Russian hackers gained access to voter databases in two Florida counties. The Governor indicated that this time the Russians didn’t manipulate any data and the election results weren’t compromised.

Nothing is more important to the integrity of our democracy than voters feeling confident that their votes are accurately counted and protected from cyber attacks. The protecting of the integrity of our voting system should not be a partisan issue. President Trump’s cavalier attitude towards the Russians mounting a devastating cyber hacking operation and effective social media influence campaign against the United States in 2016 election is irresponsible, incomprehensible and anti-democratic.

It is clearly not humorous as President Trump suggested when he relayed Putin’s reaction to the Muller investigation’s findings of Russian meddling in our elections “(Putin) sort of smiled when he said something to the effect that it started out as mountain and ended up being a mouse.” Attempting to subvert our democracy is not funny.