Chuck Todd is not a happy man.
The indictment announced today of thirteen Russian internet trolls (none of whom were arrested) and three Russian entities (two of which have been under U.S. sanctions since 2014) is little more than kabuki. In his announcement, Rosenstein went out of his way to emphasize that no American knowingly assisted the group and there was no evidence that the Russian operation had any effect on the election.
In short, most of Chuck Todd’s life for the past year has been revealed to have been a lie.
This was Todd’s reaction:
If you work in American politics or in the Gov’t on any level and your first reaction to today’s Mueller indictment is NOT ”how are we going to prevent this from happening again and how are we going to punish Russia,” then you need to rethink your priorities as a citizen.
— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) February 16, 2018
I’ll take up the challenge. Unlike Todd, I have and do work in the areas he lays out, so let me give you my perspective. Let’s start with the second one first. We’ve already hit Russia with sanctions over this escapade. I don’t see what we are going to accomplish by more sanctions. The last time around the Russians expelled 755 of our diplomats and hangers-on from Russia. That hurt us much more than the expulsion of 35 Russians by Obama. Now our staff is at the same size of the Russian mission in the United States and our ability to carry out programs to further our goals in Russia has been destroyed. I don’t think we won that. Any punishment we inflict on Russia is going to be reciprocated. I’m not opposed to punishing them for serious stuff but I think we’ve done enough for this chickensh**.
Now let’s get to the first part.
Democracy is messy. This was not the first election the Russians have mucked about in. It won’t be the last. In fact, we muck about in elections on a regular basis. Obama basically sent veterans of his campaign to Israel to help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponent and the U. S. State Department gave his opponent nearly $350,000 in taxpayer money. The only way we’re going to make sure this “doesn’t’ happen again” is by outlawing free speech, in particular, political speech around elections. The dollar amounts spent on advertising was so small and so distributed it was never going to trigger any warning system–well under $400K total in ad buys. Any system that wipes out ad buys like those executed by the Russians will also wipe out ad buys by U.S. citizens acting alone or by small 501(c)4 organizations because there are just too many ads bought for anyone to do due diligence on all the buyers.
Should we sit idly by and let this happen? Of course not. But in 2016 that is exactly the call that was made by the Obama administration. The solution is not bullying Facebook and Instagram and Twitter into refusing to run pro-life and Second Amendment ads because of the fear that the Russians will run them, too. The solution is for the Intelligence Community and the FBI to identify the players and the mechanisms and take them down. Hard. If four of those Russians had been arrested when they entered the country illegally and indicted and convicted before being expelled, well it might have slowed things down a bit. If instead of monitoring the VPN that allowed the Russians to pretend as though they were based in the U.S. the FBI had shut them down, or if the NSA had used them for a malware experiment, a lesson might have been learned.
The perpetual hard-on we seem to have for Russia is dumb, and worse than dumb it is counterproductive. It is one of the things that George Washington warned us against in his farewell address. The idea that we can stop all foreign meddling is equally silly. We’re adults. We live in a real world with real nations who are our competitors. We need to put on our big boy pants and learn how to deal with it.