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Cotton: White House blocked my panel to counter Russian influence – Washington Examiner (blog)

The hawkish Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., believes one can draw a straight line between the Obama administration’s years of acquiescence to Russia and Russian interference in this year’s election.

Specifically, today in Politico, he points to a bipartisan panel involving several federal agencies that he and others in Congress tried to create earlier this year. The purpose was “to counter Russian efforts “to exert covert influence,” including by exposing Russian “falsehoods, agents of influence, corruption, human rights abuses, terrorism, and assassinations.” One of the panel’s goals would have been to lay bare Russia’s “funding of agents of influence” — a perhaps important and still-mostly-untold story.

Cotton’s proposal passed the House, but died in the Senate amid White House opposition. It would not have come soon enough to change what happened during this year’s election. But he believes the White House’s flat-out rejection of it at the time (with what he considers a thin rationale) is just one symptom of long-term neglect of a serious problem.

And as if to bolster Cotton’s reasoning, the administration offered this anonymous response to Cotton’s complaint:

“It’s awfully rich for Republicans in Congress to accuse us of not taking this seriously. We’ve long been ringing alarm bells, and, in the case of the election hacking, it was Republicans in Congress that opposed an effort for bipartisan shows of solidarity.”

The official was referring to White House efforts ahead of the election to get support from congressional leaders for a bipartisan statement on Russia cyberintrusions — an effort that fell apart after several Republicans raised objections. …

The request that this anonymous official is referring to, detailed this month in the Washington Post, didn’t even happen until September. It consisted of an effort by FBI Director James Comey and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to encourage senators to issue a joint statement on Russian cyberintrusions, encouraging state election officials to be wary of any Russian efforts to hack the election results (which no one is suggesting they actually did).

A joint statement. One would think the White House could have at least gone all out, asking 100 senators to retweet a hashtag or something.

The Politico piece notes that Cotton will be offering legislation once again to create this panel to expose and counter Russian influence, and that it is likely to cause friction with the incoming Trump administration. It’s going to be very important going forward that Republicans in Congress resist President-elect Trump’s bad instincts on Russia.

Fortunately, if they dare to do so, they can probably now count on at least some help from Democrats, who are no longer making jokes about how the Cold War is over. With Obama gone, they now have every partisan political incentive to take this seriously without any fear of interfering with other White House priorities. And that’s a good thing.

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