Republicans Knew About the Russian Threat in 2016. Why Do They Deny It Now?

Donald Trump is a Russian puppet. Why are they protecting him?

“RUSSIA IS TRYING to turn Ukraine against itself.”

That sounds like something Fiona Hill, the former Russia director for the National Security Council, might have said during her public testimony at yesterday’s impeachment inquiry—perhaps right after this section of her sobering opening statement:

U.S. support for Ukraine—which continues to face armed Russian aggression—has been politicized. The Russian government’s goal is to weaken our country—to diminish America’s global role and to neutralize a perceived U.S. threat to Russian interests. President Putin and the Russian security services aim to counter U.S. foreign policy objectives in Europe, including in Ukraine, where Moscow wishes to reassert political and economic dominance.

The sentence would fit perfectly at the end of that paragraph, succinctly summarizing it: “Russia is trying to turn Ukraine against itself.”

But the quotation is not from the 21 November 2019 testimony of Fiona Hill on Capitol Hill, but rather from a secretly-recorded exchange then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the House Republican Caucus, on 15 June 2016, concerning the ultimate aim of Russia’s propaganda war with Ukraine:

RODGERS: I went [to Ukraine] a year ago. It was like, wow. These people are living…they’re on the front lines. They’re fighting for their freedom…their independence.

RYAN: [The Ukrainian Prime Minister] has this really interesting riff about…people have said they have Ukraine fatigue, but it’s really Russia fatigue because what Russia is doing to us [in Ukraine], financing our populists, financing people in our government to undo our government, you know, messing with our oil and gas energy, all the things Russia does to basically blow up our country, they’re just going to roll through us and go to the Baltics and everyone else.

RODGERS: Yes!

RYAN: So we should not have Ukraine fatigue, we should have Russia fatigue.

RODGERS: Yes! The propaganda…my big takeaway from that trip was just how sophisticated the propaganda…

RYAN: It’s very sophisticated.

RODGERS…coming out of Russia and Putin.

RYAN: Very sophisticated.

[break]

RYAN: This isn’t just about Ukraine.

RODGERS: So, yeah, it is a, um…a propaganda war.

RYAN: Russia is trying to turn Ukraine against itself.

This is telling. Three and a half years ago, Paul Ryan—and therefore the entire Republican Party—knew damn well the unique danger posed by Vladimir Putin—not just to Ukraine, but to the United States. In the US, too, the Russians are trying to turn the country against itself. In the US, too, they are financing populists. In the US, too, they are financing people in our government to undo our government.

Russia psy-ops weaponize wedge issues, using social media, especially the egregiously negligent Facebook, to amplify the existing divisions within the population: race issues, abortion, gender issues, gun control, and so on. These techniques are explained at length in Mueller’s indictment against the Internet Research Agency and the “13 Russians.” Hill remarked on them yesterday:

President Putin and the Russian security services operate like a super PAC. They deploy millions of dollars to weaponize our own political opposition research and false narratives. When we are consumed by partisan rancor, we cannot combat these external forces as they seek to divide us against each another, degrade our institutions, and destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy.

Populist can be read here as a candidate who bucks the traditional party system to run as an independent—a spoiler, designed to siphon votes away from the viable candidates. Think Jill Stein in 2016, or, potentially, Tulsi Gabbard in 2020.

And yes, of course, whether explicitly or not, Moscow has clearly directed its Oval Office puppet, Donald Trump, to destroy our country’s institutions from within. This was the purpose of installing uniquely corrupt people who personally loathe the departments they are selected to run. As I wrote one year ago:

Hill corroborated this assessment, albeit less colorfully, in her opening statement (boldface mine): “The impact of the successful 2016 Russian campaign remains evident today. Our nation is being torn apart. Truth is questioned. Our highly professional and expert career foreign service is being undermined.

Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise, and the rest of the GOP leadership expressed concerns about Russian interference in Ukraine in 2016. Why does that same GOP leadership now propagate the lie that Ukraine, not Russia, is the real threat? The situation on the ground has not changed. To the contrary, Russian aggression has only gotten worse. Why do Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan—and ostensibly more sensible Republicans like Elise Stefanik and Will Hurd—deny reality? Why are they protecting Vladimir Putin?

Hill, to her credit, called them out yesterday:

Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country—and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves. The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016. This is the public conclusion of our intelligence agencies, confirmed in bipartisan Congressional reports. It is beyond dispute, even if some of the underlying details must remain classified.

It is beyond dispute—and yet Devin Nunes and his insane clown posse continue to dispute it. Let’s be clear: the frustration here is not that Donald Trump is Putin’s puppet. Hillary Clinton told us that in 2016, and she was not just being colorful. No, the frustration is that an entire political party has abandoned reality to save the skin of a seditious criminal illicitly installed in the White House. The GOP have gone to Orwellian lengths to convince us that black is white, war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength, Russia is Ukraine, Hunter Biden is Don Junior, and so on. It is exhausting, keeping track of the avalanche of lies. And that’s the point of the op.

“Right now,” Hill said yesterday, “Russia’s security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election. We are running out of time to stop them. In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.” What is preventing Nunes and his Fascist goon squad from taking Hill’s sage advice? If the Daily Beast story about Nunes’s connection to the indicted Giuliani chum Lev Parnas is true, the answer may well reside in Ukraine.


IMAGINE you’re in a large building, and the fire alarm goes off. You instinctively start for the exit, but then you see that none of the people in charge are paying attention to the alarm. There is no sense of urgency. The powers that be have barely registered that the alarm is sounding—and half of those people are loudly insisting that there is no alarm, that reports of an alarm are “fake news,” even though you can hear the strident shriek, and you can smell something burning, and up ahead, around the corner…isn’t that black smoke?

Only once before, in a quarter millennium, has our country faced such a threat. And in the early days of the Civil War, too, people went on with their daily lives, certain that nothing would come of the saber-rattling by South Carolina, sure that the alarm was fake news.

The purpose of the impeachment inquiry is not just to indict Donald Trump. It is also to show, in no uncertain terms, that the threat is real, that the alarms really are sounding, that the attack by Russia is no “hoax,” and our resistance to it not a “witch hunt”—and that the GOP, as Hill asked, no longer “promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.”

Slowly but surely, the American people are awakening to the reality that we are under attack by a hostile enemy power—that Donald Trump aided and abetted that attack, and, worst of all, that the Republican party, once the stalwarts of national security, refuse to even acknowledge the threat, let alone take action against it.

Do we have Russia fatigue? Yes. Do we have Ukraine fatigue? Sure. But once the alarm bells are universally acknowledged—once the gravity of the threat is fully understood—I have no doubt that the nation will rise to anger, as is right and proper, and demand that the Senate do what’s right.

Trump must go, yes. But his collaborators, too, must pay the traitor’s price.