Donald Trump is so angry when anyone even mentions Russian hacking that his staff is afraid to talk about it. Jared Kushner waves off a multi-million-dollar military action that included hacking, thousands of social media accounts, false news sites, and actual Russian boots on American soil as “a couple of Facebook ads.” And on Wednesday Mike Pence made it clear that he was unwilling to take even the most basic action to secure the 2020 election.
Asked by NBC News’ Vaughn Hillyard whether he regretted his support for WikiLeaks and his praise of stolen documents in the 2016 election, Pence responded by talking about the prosecution of Julian Assange, without mentioning that the crime Assange was charged with had nothing to do with his disseminating stolen material—an action that Pence supported. Pence also launched into a spiel about how the White House had “fully cooperated” with the special counsel investigation, despite the fact that the report itself shows how Trump stonewalled, withheld information, ordered staffers to either lie or not testify, provided inadequate answers, and refused to testify.
Finally, Hillyard asked Pence if he would pledge not to use emails provided by Russia in the 2020 election. To that question Pence responded … he didn’t respond. Instead he gave a sound bite about the economy. When Hillyard tried to ask again, Pence walked away.
After everything that’s happened, and after all the evidence given, Trump and Kushner are still sticking up for Russia, and Pence is making it clear that they will not pledge to stay away from Russian material in 2020. After all, as Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani stated last Sunday, “There’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.” Trump is making it absolutely clear that when it comes to 2020, his interest is in keeping the doors wide open for Russia to hack, plant false stories, and subvert the election in every way imaginable.
Meanwhile, Democrats are already pledging not just to stay away from material from Russia, but not to use any hacked materials in their campaigns.
As the Washington Post reports, Democrats are pressing Republican candidates at all levels to agree not to use hacked materials. In 2016 it wasn’t just Trump who benefited from Russian actions. Material stolen from the DNC gave Republican candidates insight into Democratic messaging and get-out-the-vote efforts. Republican strategists helped Russia identify the most valuable documents, including the district-by-district plan, and didn’t just hand these documents back to the Russians, but also passed them on to Republican candidates. That’s particularly true in Florida, where Republican strategist and writer Aaron Nevins communicated with Russians operating under the name Guccifer 2.0 and passed along stolen information that was used not just in Republican planning, but in ads for a Florida House race.
And of course there was Mitch McConnell. When President Obama presented McConnell with the evidence that Russia was trying to sway the outcome of the election, McConnell not only would not make a public statement, but also issued threats.
So how interested are Republicans in agreeing to not used hacked material in 2020? About as interested as Trump is. The NRCC has refused to make a statement, while defending the use of stolen information in 2016 because it was “in the public domain.” It was in the public domain. Because it was stolen. Those are the high standards you can expect Republicans at all levels to follow for the coming election.