On Tuesday—hours after Donald Trump yet again questioned whether Russia intervened in the 2016 U.S. election and denounced the investigation into that interference by “disgraced and discredited Bob Mueller and his … Angry Democrat Thugs” as a “Rigged Witch Hunt”—a top official in the Trump administration issued a stark warning about the peril of politicizing the threat from Vladimir Putin. Nothing less than American democracy itself is at stake, he argued.
“The most dangerous thing in the world we could do is to politicize the challenge [from Russia], which in itself would be a gift to Putin,” said Wess Mitchell, who oversees the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
But the danger is already here. Mitchell’s warning came in the midst of a controversy that vividly illustrates just how destructively partisan the threat from Russia has already become across the American political spectrum: The president recently took the unprecedented step of revoking the security clearance of John Brennan in avowed retaliation for the former CIA director’s role in the “sham” Russia probe, after Brennan’s extraordinary insinuations about Trump’s “treasonous” and suspicious actions involving Russia. Trump’s refusal during his summit with Putin in Helsinki to acknowledge Russia’s political meddling as a legitimate threat triggered new attacks by Trump’s critics on the president’s legitimacy as a leader, and new attacks by Trump on the legitimacy of those investigating Russia’s political meddling. Ninety-three weeks since the 2016 presidential election, the damage done to American democracy by Putin’s influence campaign continues to compound.