Not only should this not be controversial, it’s also not new. CIA director Mike Pompeo told an audience in Aspen yesterday that he believes Russia conducted a large-scale campaign to influence the 2016 election, as his agency concluded late last year. Russia has a long track record of such attempts, going back to the Cold War, and it remains an ongoing threat to which American counterintelligence has to remain vigilant:
At the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, Pompeo was asked whether he supports the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
“Of course,” he replied. “And the one before that, and the one before that.”
Later in the question-and-answer session with New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, Pompeo was asked whether he was downplaying Russia’s meddling in 2016 by also mentioning the Kremlin’s behavior in previous years.
“I am confident that the Russians meddled in this election, as is the entire intelligence community,” Pompeo said, appearing agitated at the skepticism towards his previous answer. “I hope I didn’t stop at 2008 [for when he says Russian began interfering in U.S. elections]. You can go back to the 70s. My point was simply this: This threat is real. The U.S. government, including the Central Intelligence Agency, has to figure out a way to fight back against it and defeat it. And we’re intent upon doing that.”
For some reason, this provoked the ire of Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee that Pompeo used to chair:
Disturbed to see CIA Director trivialize Russian interference in our election. 2016 not comparable to anything in the past. He knows better. https://t.co/ZbbSstGE1B
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) July 21, 2017
Perhaps Schiff hasn’t paid much attention. Pompeo has actually argued this consistently. In an appearance last week at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance Leadership Dinner in McLean, Virginia, Pompeo said almost exactly the same thing without a peep from Schiff:
CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Tuesday night that Russian “clearly” meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
But Russian interference in U.S. elections is nothing new, Pompeo told an audience at an Intelligence and National Security Alliance dinner. Russians also intervened in the 2012 election and previous election cycles, he said.
“They’ve been at this a hell of a long time,” the former Kansas congressman said.
In fact, until very very recently, Republicans had been remarkably consistent on the threat Russia poses to the US, both militarily and politically. Democrats widely mocked Mitt Romney for his presidential debate position that Russia was our most dangerous geopolitical foe, but Romney consistently held that position throughout the campaign. In June 2012, Romney sharply criticized Barack Obama for failing to recognize Russia as such, and offering concessions rather than demonstrating strength in regard to Vladimir Putin:
“The nation which consistently opposes our actions at the United Nations has been Russia,” Romney said. “We’re of course not enemies. We’re not fighting each other. There’s no Cold War, but Russia is a geopolitical foe in that regard.”
Romney’s remarks came as President Obama has been meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin at Mexico’s G-20 summit to try to seek common ground over how to deal with Syria, one of Russia’s allies. Romney blasted Obama for what he called an ill-advised concession on withdrawing missile-defense sites from Eastern Europe, which he called Putin’s “number one foreign-policy objective.”
“I think it was an enormous mistake to give them that and what he got in return shows the extraordinary naiveté of a presidency that does not understand the power of resolve and strength,” he said.
Asked if he thinks Putin respects Obama, Romney replied: “I believe that people around the world tend to act on their own self-interests as they perceive it. I do not believe that they respond to magnetic personalities and pleasantries, and believe that the best way to shape the course of American foreign policy is show strength — strength in our homes and our economy and our military. And to have a president who shows resolve and locks arms with our allies, as opposed to attacking our allies and trying to control our geopolitical foes.”
Republicans with few exceptions lined up behind that view, and continued to warn of the challenges from Russia and of the dangers of underestimating them, militarily and politically. Democrats magically appear to have discovered this threat on November 9th, 2016.
Pompeo’s statements are unremarkable, and consistent. Pompeo’s statements also do not argue against a potential conclusion that Russia might have been a lot more successful in 2016 than in past election cycles, as Schiff appears to suggest, but just that the threat has existed for a long time before Democrats acknowledged it. And maaaayyyybeee that Russian success in 2016 flows from a national policy under Obama of not taking the threat seriously, as Romney and most Republicans warned in 2008 and 2012, and consistently through the “reset button” and “more flexibility” embarrassments.
Maybe Rep. Schiff needs to pay more attention to what Pompeo says, and less time on television.