Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday pushed back at Democratic charges that he single-handedly diluted a bipartisan push in September 2016 for states to safeguard their election systems from Russian disruption.
McConnell addressed the issue two days after Denis McDonough, who served as then-President Barack Obama’s chief of staff at the time, charged that the GOP leader slow-walked bipartisan negotiations on how congressional leaders should weigh in on the threat of Moscow’s cyber-meddling in the 2016 election.
McConnell told reporters that he had no regrets about the volume of the warning that state election officials received about the threat of Russian interference in 2016.
“I’m perfectly comfortable with the steps that were taken back then,” he said.
McDonough offered a far different perspective on Sunday, telling “Meet the Press” that the joint statement congressional leaders issued weeks before the election “took over three weeks” to craft. “It was dramatically watered down,” McDonough said, attributing the effort solely to McConnell.
Former Vice President Joe Biden in January made a similar accusation about McConnell’s role in January, saying that McConnell “wanted no part of having a bipartisan commitment that we would say essentially, ‘Russia’s doing this. Stop.’… This was all about the political play.”
Seeming to acknowledge Biden’s remarks, the Kentucky Republican on Tuesday described McDonough’s comments as “the same old thing they’ve been saying for weeks.”
McConnell spokesman Don Stewart pointed to a July op-ed by McDonough that described the Obama administration’s call for a bipartisan statement against election meddling as “ultimately successful.”
Obama’s aides had “asked for a letter about election security — not Russia,” Stewart said by email, adding that McDonough’s op-ed relates his request for “DEMOCRATS not to do a public statement about Russia during this same time period. Give me a break.”
McDonough wrote in the Post that he “asked two Democrats to withhold a public statement on the matter mainly to avoid politicizing the issue,” in part “because we were extremely concerned that the perception of partisan motives would undermine Americans’ confidence in the vote and make state authorities more reluctant to cooperate.”
While Democrats continue to hammer the Trump administration for not doing more to punish Russia for its documented meddling in the 2016 election to benefit Trump’s election, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Senate Armed Services Committee members on Tuesday that new sanctions targeting Russian involvement in cyber-meddling would be “coming soon,” perhaps within days.
Nolan McCaskill contributed to this report.