At the end of a nearly two year investigation, special counsel Robert Mueller made clear that Russia engaged in “multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election.” President Donald Trump, however, doesn’t see it that way. He argued Wednesday night that this type of attack was “not an interference,” and when asked about what he would do if he was offered information about an opponent from a foreign country again, Trump said, “I think I’d take it.”
This should come as little surprise. The Trump campaign eagerly welcomed such assistance in the last election; all told, the campaign staff, transition staff and their associates had more than 270 contacts with Russia-linked operatives during the campaign and transition — which they then desperately sought to hide from the press, the public and even law enforcement.
The Mueller report paints a devastating picture of the Trump team’s frequent contacts with Russia-linked operatives. It shows that Trump’s campaign had advance warning that Russia had hacked his opponent and stolen emails. It discusses how the highest levels of the Trump campaign secretly met with representatives of the Russian government to see how they could work together to influence the election. And it details how, throughout the campaign, Trump and his personal lawyer were involved in secret discussions with the Kremlin about a lucrative business deal in Moscow, which they repeatedly lied about.
Dozens knew but no one told law enforcement
Knowledge about the Russia contacts, including 38 meetings, was widespread: 33 high-ranking campaign officials and Trump advisers were aware of them, yet no one reported a single one. At any given time throughout the campaign there were multiple ongoing conversations between different members of the Trump campaign and Russia-linked operatives — sometimes even on the exact same day.
Take April 11, 2016, for example. That day, Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort exchanged emails with Russian national Konstantin Kilimnik. The FBI has assessed him as having “ties to Russian intelligence,” and Manafort’s deputy suspected him of being a spy. Throughout the campaign, Manafort shared polling data with Kilimnik and even discussed his strategy to win critical Midwestern states.
The very same day, Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos exchanged emails with a Russian woman — who he incorrectly believed was President Vladimir Putin’s niece — and with the man who had introduced them, Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud. Mifsud would later tell Papadopoulos that the Russians had thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails and preview a strategy to anonymously release them to help the Trump campaign.In response, Papadopoulos continued his conversations with Mifsud about setting up a meeting between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Or consider July 31, 2016, a day in which three Trump team members were involved in their own separate efforts to communicate with Russia-linked operatives. Papadopoulos exchanged texts with Sergei Millian, who was born in Belarus and claimed to have “insider knowledge and direct access to the top hierarchy in Russian politics.” Manafort emailed Kilimnik about an upcoming meeting the two men were planning. And longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone directed an intermediary to see WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who was ultimately responsible for anonymously leaking material that was hacked and stolen from the DNC by Russian intelligence officers.
Multiple lines of contact to help Trump
These selected snapshots highlight that the Trump campaign and Russia-linked operatives had simultaneous lines of communication open, often focusing on different types of aid that could be provided to the campaign. One Trump team member regularly communicating with one Russia-linked operative would have been bad enough. But these multiple and overlapping lines of effort highlight a commitment on both sides to share information with each other throughout the campaign.
Getting away with it: Donald Trump just welcomed foreign collusion. He's not even pretending now.
As the Trump team prepared to transition into the White House, these contacts accelerated — in December 2016 alone, there were nearly 30 contacts between the two sides. The day after the election, Stone, Papadopoulos and then-campaign communications manager Hope Hicks all heard from Russia-linked operatives. And in the lead up to the inauguration, Trump’s incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn had secret conversations with the Russian ambassador about U.S. sanctions policy. He later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about these discussions.
'Duty to report' legal requirement would help
The Mueller report makes clear that the Trump team’s secret contacts with Russia were extensive, pervasive and ongoing. But Trump’s own son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner recently said that, if given another chance, he likely would not report contacts with foreign adversaries to the FBI. Worse yet, Trump agreed with Kushner on Wednesday, saying that if someone offers information on your opponent, “you don’t call the FBI.”
Recognizing the future threat, Democrats in the House passed legislation to protect our elections — but Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to even consider it. Now, House Democrats are re-upping their legislative effort, including considering a “Duty to Report” bill that would require campaigns to report foreign contacts or attempted foreign influence to law enforcement.
This type of legislation would be an important bulwark against foreign interference. But what would be even better is a president who actively combated these foreign attacks on our democracy instead of encouraging them.
Sam Berger is the vice president for Democracy and Government Reform at the Center for American Progress. Talia Dessel is a research analyst for the Moscow Project. Follow Berger on Twitter @SamBerger_DC.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump invites foreigners to distort 2020 elections. Why won't he protect his own country?