McCain Says Republicans ‘Doing Putin’s Job for Him’
The 2008 Republican nominee for president condemned his party and its president for the release of a controversial memo attacking the FBI.
U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released the following statement on partisan attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice:
“In 2016, the Russian government engaged in an elaborate plot to interfere in an American election and undermine our democracy. Russia employed the same tactics it has used to influence elections around the world, from France and Germany to Ukraine, Montenegro, and beyond. Putin’s regime launched cyberattacks and spread disinformation with the goal of sowing chaos and weakening faith in our institutions. And while we have no evidence that these efforts affected the outcome of our election, I fear they succeeded in fueling political discord and dividing us from one another.
“The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests – no party’s, no president’s, only Putin’s. The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia’s ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation must proceed unimpeded. Our nation’s elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows. If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.”
Quite right. Russia’s political warfare under the so-called Gerasimov Doctrine, among other things, calls for the “transformation of differences into contradictions” to sow chaos. The document, at least in its English translation (which is the only one I have the ability to read) is rather cryptic and it’s possible to take liberties in interpreting it. Still, Molly McKew‘s analysis from last fall of how it’s being applied here is solid:
The Russian security state defines America as the primary adversary. The Russians know they can’t compete head-to-head with us—economically, militarily, technologically—so they create new battlefields. They are not aiming to become stronger than us, but to weaken us until we are equivalent.
Russia might not have hacked American voting machines, but by selectively amplifying targeted disinformation and misinformation on social media—sometimes using materials acquired by hacking—and forging de facto information alliances with certain groups in the United States, it arguably won a significant battle without most Americans realizing it ever took place. The U.S. electoral system is the heart of the world’s most powerful democracy, and now—thanks to Russian actions—we’re locked in a national argument over its legitimacy. We’re at war with ourselves, and the enemy never fired a physical shot. “The information space opens wide asymmetrical possibilities for reducing the fighting potential of the enemy,” Gerasimov writes. (He also writes of using “internal opposition to create a permanently operating front through the entire territory of the enemy state.”)
The hyper-polarized political and media climate in the United States is ripe for exploitation. There is a predisposition—particularly but not exclusively in Republican circles—to believe the system is rigged against one’s own interests, class, race, religion, etc. No president since George H.W. Bush has been considered legitimate by the base of the opposition party. There have been wild conspiracy theories about Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, in particular, but large swaths of Democrats believed that not only the 2000 but even the 2004 elections were stolen and the Bush and Cheney were Hitler if not worse.
In that environment, it’s not the least bit difficult to persuade both parties simultaneously that the FBI was working against their candidate in the 2016 election, a seeming impossibility. Democrats were understandably furious when then-Director Jim Comey coupled his announcement that there would be no criminal charges against Hillary Clinton in the email scandal with a scolding of her and her staff for being “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information” and acknowledging “evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information.” Republicans saw the same moment as evidence of a cover-up by the FBI and the Obama administration for one of their own, citing the unfortunate meeting of Bill Clinton and then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch aboard his airplane as proof the fix was in.
Is it plausible that an Obama administration that downplayed Russian involvement in the 2016 election to avoid giving the appearance of using the intelligence and law enforcement agencies as a partisan tool was simultaneously conducting a nefarious witch hunt against the Trump campaign? Not to a rational observer. But, if you’re predisposed to believe that the other side is evil, it all makes sense.
As I noted yesterday, we’re simply not in the same place we were when the Watergate scandal was unfolding. While Republicans were naturally more skeptical that Richard Nixon did anything wrong and Democrats were naturally easier to persuade, both sides were generally looking at the same set of facts and held the same set of moral and ethical standards. Indeed, for all his flaws, Nixon himself ultimately yielded to the rule of law when the Supreme Court ruled against him on the tapes. I can’t imagine Trump doing that today.