Much of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was focused, appropriately, on what crimes or impeachable offenses might have been committed.
But part of Mueller’s mission was purely about finding facts on Russia's disinformation campaign. Now Americans have them.
The Mueller report, released last Thursday, concludes that Russia’s interference in the election was “sweeping and systematic.” This wasn't mere "meddling," as it is often called. This was information warfare against America's democracy.
The report, building on previously released indictments, details the hacking and leaking of emails designed to embarrass Democrats. It also details the works of a Russian organization, called the Internet Research Agency (IRA), that peppered social media with materials designed to exploit divisions within American society.
As the campaign went on, the Russian effort evolved into one designed to favor Donald Trump and disparage Hillary Clinton. In fact, the IRA went so far as to organize pro-Trump rallies. Trying to gauge whether any of this was enough to sway the outcome is a fool’s errand. But what is clear from the report is that Russia is no friend of democracy or the United States.
OTHER VIEWS: ‘Nothing wrong’ with taking Russian information
It is time for the Trump administration, Congress, the states and leading technology companies to address this fact and ensure that the 2020 election isn't a rerun of 2016.
Some steps are already being taken. Congress imposed sanctions on Russia. The FBI established a task force on foreign influence. Companies such as Facebook and Twitter are beefing up efforts to fight disinformation. States are strengthening their voting systems against cyberattacks. But more needs to be done, especially at the White House level.
This would start with Trump ending — and explaining — any secret meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin. U.S. presidents simply should not have no-record meetings with important heads of state, particularly not with those who head adversarial nations.
The response should also include ending petty fights with longtime U.S. allies in Europe and elsewhere and instead marshaling support to isolate Russia. Sowing divisions between the United States and its NATO allies has been a key aim of Putin.
In many ways, Russia is a loser in today’s global commerce. On a per-capita basis, its economy is smaller than those of Costa Rica, Malaysia and Poland. It has yet to figure a way to produce goods and services beyond energy, raw materials and vodka that people outside its borders want to buy. And it has relatively few allies, many of them former Soviet Republics and Eastern European nations.
Yet Putin has leveraged what little power it has to extraordinary effect. If the Mueller report does nothing else, it should alert the United States to the peril in this.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mueller report indicts Russia. Will Trump protect the 2020 election against Putin?