America is still under attack, as President Trump meets with the man who staged it

Trump knew about the sweeping indictments of Russian intelligence and still met Putin. Can we say "treason" now?

Published July 16, 2018 12:20PM (EDT)

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin  shake hands before a meeting in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018. (Getty/Brendan Smialowski)
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin shake hands before a meeting in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018. (Getty/Brendan Smialowski)

There’s nothing about the ongoing Russian attack on our elections that’s visually terrifying. There aren’t any burning towers or explosions. No flag-draped coffins or memorial services or black marble monuments. The attack that began three, perhaps four years ago by Russian military intelligence on orders from Vladimir Putin is a bloodless war against American democracy and our national sovereignty. But it’s a war nevertheless.

Perhaps this is why we’re not more alarmed by the attacks, not to mention what’s still to come. Perhaps this is why the current administration is getting away with refusing to condemn the attack. Indeed, quite the opposite. “Spooning” is a better way to describe Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

During previous eras, our political leadership, especially our president, has acted swiftly in the face of state aggression against us and our allies. Even Barack Obama, when faced with early reports about the extent of the attack, red-phoned Putin and demanded he cease hostilities. Contrary to the revisionist gibberish from the current regime, Obama publicly condemned the attack and then authorized economic sanctions, while deploying digital “bombs” into Russian infrastructure as retaliation. Russian spies were booted out of various diplomatic compounds in the U.S., and additional public condemnations were issued during the presidential transition. Trump was handed the baton on Jan. 20, 2017, with the responsibility of continuing America’s response. Instead … crickets.

As we await the outcome of Trump's summit with Putin in Helsinki, we know that our president can’t scramble quickly enough to a microphone or cellphone to praise the Russian leader, while further conditioning his Red Hat fanboys with a virtual manifesto of lies about Putin's alleged benevolence.

During one of Trump’s recent rally-rants, this time in Fargo, North Dakota, while Russian bots flooded American social media again, Trump told his gullible loyalists: "You know,  President Putin is KGB and this and that. ... Putin is fine. He's fine. We are all fine, we're all people." Sure, we’re all people. But if Putin is just a guy, then Osama bin Laden was “fine,” too. As were Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi. Anyone who’s up-to-speed on the atrocities of such despots knows they’re anything but “fine,” and those of us who cherish democracy and our right to free and fair elections untouched by foreign cyberattacks likewise understand that Putin isn’t our buddy. He may indeed be manipulating and controlling our president and much of his party.

According to the Justice Department, the Mueller grand jury and the entire American intelligence community, as well as the intelligence agencies of our allies -- not to mention the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee, along with an entire roster of A-list reporters and national security experts -- the Russian military intelligence outfit, the GRU, continues to orchestrate a multi-pronged cyberwar against our electoral process, with the evident intention of disrupting democracy and helping Donald Trump. The grand jury indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers, not to mention the American accomplices mentioned in the charges, ought to convince anyone who’s on the fence about what happened. 

Trump, of course, took time out from his overseas trip to question the severity of the attack, and indeed its very existence.

Once again, Trump wonders loud why Obama didn’t do anything to stop an attack (he did) which Trump and his disciples believe isn’t even real. We know he still thinks the entire investigation is “rigged” because he tweeted that, too.

On July 11, when the above tweet dropped, Trump was already aware of the then-forthcoming indictment against Guccifer 2.0, DCLeaks and 10 other GRU agents. He knew the indictments covered prongs of the attack, such as the apparent theft of 500,000 voter-registration records. The combatants allegedly stole documents from the Democratic National Committee and the Democrats' congressional campaign arm, and then released them to compliant press outlets in order to smear Hillary Clinton and other members of her party. They are accused of engaging in money laundering to help finance their war, and the grand jury charged the GRU operatives with hacking “into the computers of state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and US companies that supplied software and other technology related to the administration of elections.”

READ MORE: Malcolm Nance on Trump: We're "on the cusp" of "losing the American constitutional republic forever"

Yet Trump defined the investigation as a “rigged witch hunt” after learning all this. He knew there were a dozen more indictments incoming, this time including actual combatants, and still downplayed the whole damn thing. Furthermore, we can safely predict that Trump will once take Putin’s word during their summit that it’s all a big nothing, as he’s preposterously stated in the past.

Almost as unforgivable is the behavior of the House Freedom Caucus. In the immediate aftermath of the GRU indictments last week, these far-right members of Congress didn’t issue a single bad word about Russia or Putin. Instead, the caucus took the ludicrous next step in its attempt to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Imagine if Democrats, in the wake of 9/11, had refused to condemn the Taliban, al-Qaida or bin Laden and instead suggested the attacks didn’t occur while launching an effort to impeach John Ashcroft. Those of us who still exist in the real world are left to wonder about the patriotism of these lawmakers who are busily covering up or obfuscating the attack -- especially, when we recall how these same leaders targeted Vietnam heroes like Max Cleland and John Kerry (then both senators) as unpatriotic for opposing the Iraq War.

No wonder well-earned accusations of complicity and cooperation with the Russians are being hurled in the direction of the entire Republican Party, not to mention its benefactors in the National Rifle Association. Despite the good work of Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and his Intelligence Committee, most of the party appears more interested in protecting the millions in campaign cash being funneled from Putin-connected oligarchs into PACs linked to Mitch McConnell and others.

There are no words to fully describe an American president and his party who are actively working to erase the existence of a war against our national sovereignty, mainly because it’s never really happened before, at least not on anything like this catastrophic scale. They seem to be getting away with it for now. Trump's approval ratings continue to hover in the 40s, per various polls, and the GOP has mostly avoided widespread accountability so far. That never would have been possible for George W. Bush had he behaved in late 2001 as Trump is today. Or for FDR in 1941, Lincoln in 1861 or Reagan in 1986. Or, for that matter, Obama in 2016.

Consequently, We the People and our supposedly sacred ballots are left completely vulnerable by the so-called commander in chief in the face of a foreign power's continued aggression, with a midterm election growing closer by the day. 

This wasn’t a traditional attack, but we can draw some comfort in knowing there are countless heroes doing the hard work of safeguarding our elections from an army of military trolls, bots and hackers, along with the American quislings aiding them. Sadly, our current president is most definitely not a hero and he never will be. Based on his obvious complicity followed by his criminal inaction and obstruction, Donald Trump looks ever more like a conspirator, before and during the attack. For his words and deeds, he deserves nothing short of impeachment and permanent ignominy. History will be his judge.

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By Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.