Media files misleading stories about trip by GOP senators to Moscow
...How could Milbank and Brennan be so misinformed? They appear to be men who only hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest. That is a bad look for the media and for a former CIA director. While there is some evidence that Russia did attempt to mess with the election in 2016, I have seen nothing that indicates it changed the outcome. It looks like an overwrought excuse for the Democrats losing.
"Have we forgotten what the Russians did in the 2016 election?" asked former CIA Director John Brennan on MSNBC. "Have we forgotten what the Russians did in Crimea?"
The answer is no. In the last few days, Sens. John Thune and Ron Johnson, two of the GOP lawmakers who went to Russia, talked to me about what was discussed there. Their accounts — of conversations dominated by talk of the 2016 election, plus substantial discussion of Crimea and Ukraine — differ radically from the Resistance narrative.
First, there was a lot of discussion, some of it heated, about election interference. Both lawmakers said the Americans did not hesitate to bring up the 2016 election, and the subject took up much of their time in sessions with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Konstantin Kosachev, former Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, and other officials.
"We delivered, I thought, a very tough message from the Article 1 branch of our government that we're very serious about the issue of election meddling, and they've got to stop it," Thune, the third-ranking GOP leader in the Senate, said. "We really hammered, especially, on the election meddling. We got into Syria, we got into Ukraine, we got a little bit into nuclear weapons issues, but by and large, I would say without question the issue we hit the hardest was the issue of election meddling."
"I would say all of us at some point in time alluded to it to a certain extent," said Johnson, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation. "I don't know what percent was spent on the back-and-forth on elections, but it was a large percentage — it might have been more than 50 percent of the time we were talking was about election interference. It was covered."
The Russians were ready to argue. Russia interfering in a U.S. election? they asked. What about the U.S. interfering in Russian elections? Congress allocates lots of money to promote democracy in Russia, the Russians noted more than once.
"They spent all kinds of time pushing back," Johnson said, "saying you want evidence of interfering in politics? What about the money you actually appropriate to do just that? They had plenty of pushback."
Of course, the Russians admitted nothing, claiming there was no evidence to prove the election-meddling accusations against them. But everyone knew the U.S. intelligence community has determined that Russia tried to influence the American election, and that the Russian effort could not have happened without the knowledge of top Russian leaders. Still, the Russian leaders talking to the U.S. delegation did not concede anything.
"I wasn't expecting anybody to confess anything, and of course they didn't," Johnson said. "They just pushed back. They said you guys do way worse than we have done."
As is always the case with Russia, there was a lot of complaining about U.S. sanctions. The senators reminded the Russian officials that the minimum condition for even the possibility of loosened sanctions is no interference in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections.
"You want a better relationship? Obviously we can't see any evidence of interference in the 2018 elections," Johnson said. "That case was made time and time and time again. There could be no misunderstanding that the basic table stakes of ongoing discussions, improving the relationship, is to stop interfering in our elections. We could not have made that more plain."
"Hearing it delivered loudly and clearly from a bunch of Republican senators that election meddling is a very, very serious issue that matters to us, and if there's any hope that any of these sanctions get lifted, that they've got to demonstrate some change," added Thune. "We were there to find out if there's a path forward to a more responsible relationship between our two countries, starting with their quitting interfering in our democratic process."