In mid-October, as the presidential campaign turned daily over the release of hacked emails from the account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) adopted a far different posture from the rest of his party.
“I will not discuss any issue that has become public solely on the basis of Wikileaks,” the Florida Republican declared, referencing the website where the Podesta emails had been placed for publication, reportedly by Russian actors. Rubio’s reasoning was two-fold: U.S intelligence agencies had, by that point, concluded that “these leaks are an effort by a foreign government to interfere with our electoral process and I will not indulge it,” he explained. Additionally, it was quite possible that, one day, the hacks could disadvantage his fellow Republicans, and moral high ground would be useful if that day arrived.
“Today it is the Democrats,” Rubio said. “Tomorrow it could be us.”
A few days later, in the halls of a presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, The Huffington Post asked Donald Trump surrogate and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry what he thought of Rubio’s warning. Perry, who is now in line to be secretary of energy in a Trump administration, didn’t think much.
“I don’t really care what he thinks,” he told me. “That’s what I think.”
It was a rather blunt dismissal of a nuanced, thoughtful position. But Perry, in the end, was reflecting the mood of his party far more than Rubio.
In recent days, a series of reports have surfaced revealing that the extent of Russia’s interference in the election was far more vast and deliberate than previously believed. The CIA has assessed that Russian actors were explicitly trying to help elect Trump, while the New York Times reported both on the scope of Russia’s Democratic National Committee hack and its targeting of specific Democratic House candidates with a motivation that remains unclear to analysts.
In each instance, the Democratic leader whose organization was being hacked pleaded with his or her Republican counterpart to either publicly condemn what was taking place or to work collaboratively to limit its impact. And while congressional Republicans publicly warned about Russia’s interference, in each instance the GOP leader to whom that plea was addressed either declined those entreaties or simply ignored them.
DNC Chair Donna Brazile urged RNC Chair Reince Priebus, twice in private and once in a letter, to join her in condemning Russia’s theft of DNC emails after they were posted online and cost Brazile’s predecessor, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, her job, according to the New York Times. Each time, Priebus declined to take her up on the offer, the paper noted.
A top Democratic official, meanwhile, told The Huffington Post that Brazile pressed Priebus at two debates to attend a joint briefing on Russia’s interference. “They never joined us for a briefing,” the official said, though he cautioned that Priebus, who did publicly criticize the DNC hack, may have decided to be briefed separately. The RNC did not return a request for comment. Priebus is now Trump’s incoming chief of staff.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell both resisted pleas to speak out in a bipartisan manner on Russia’s hacking when President Barack Obama pressed them to do so, according to The Washington Post. The paper reported that the two expressed concern that it would turn the matter into a partisan squabble. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told HuffPost that he and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tried to get all four leaders to sign a letter and even changed the language to accommodate McConnell’s concerns. But the Kentucky Republican, who did warn states about the vulnerability of their election infrastructure to cyber espionage, wouldn’t budge.
“I came to the point where [I realized] it didn’t matter what we said, they aren’t going to sign the letter,” Reid said.
Pelosi’s office, meanwhile, confirmed that in early September she tried to get Ryan to jointly agree not to use documents hacked by Russian agents after the National Republican Congressional Committee began using material stolen from Democratic campaigns and candidates. Both she and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) warned that use of those documents made the NRCC complicit in aiding “the Russian government in its effort to influence American elections.”
As the full extent of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 elections has come into focus this week, calls for an investigation have intensified. Obama has said he wants a full intelligence review before he leaves office, while a bipartisan group of senators have called for thorough hearings. McConnell has offered his support for the Senate Intelligence Committee to look into the matter and Ryan has backed ongoing investigations into cyber attacks writ large ― leaving unanswered the question of whether a probe more specifically tailored to Russia and the 2016 election would be appropriate.
“The speaker has stated that the House has been looking at these issues for months (Intel, Homeland Security, Foreign Affairs, etc.) and that he supports the ongoing efforts,” his spokesperson Ashlee Strong said.
For Democrats who tried to get their counterparts to blare the horn prior to the election, this concern is coming frustratingly late. They also fear that it is being designed in a way that would merely drag out the controversy rather than getting to its core.
“Having been around here a long time, [if] you want to slow something down, turn it over to committees. Because what would happen, I’m sure, it would go to maybe Armed Services, maybe Intelligence. I don’t know where else it would go. By then months and months have gone by,” Reid said. “So I think my Democratic colleagues, after the first of the year, if they see they are getting stalled on this, may want to have a special prosecutor or at least a select committee.”
Want more updates from Sam Stein? Sign up for his newsletter, Spam Stein, here.