In news that will surprise nobody, Defense Secretary James Mattis revealed that Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections.
Speaking at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California on Saturday, Mattis claimed that Russia had again tried to “muck around” in America’s democratic process.
“There is no doubt the relationship has worsened,” Mattis said. “[Putin] tried again to muck around in our elections this last month, and we are seeing a continued effort along those lines.”
The former four-star Marine general did not reveal any other details, or indicate whether the attempted interference had been successful. According to Politico, Mattis also called Putin a “slow learner” and “someone we simply cannot trust,” in an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier. (Putin is arguably a regular-speed learner, having been given little more than a slap on the wrist after interfering in 2016.)
Mattis’ remarks come at a time when relations with Russia are already deeply strained, with Trump having canceled a meeting with Putin at the G20 Summit over Russia’s escalating attacks on Ukraine in the Kerch Strait.
US intelligence agencies warned us about this — repeatedly
This is the first time a high-level government official has directly accused Putin himself of meddling in the November 6 election, but it was clear in the lead-up to the midterms that Russia was attempting to influence the outcome, just like it did two years earlier.
In February, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Moscow saw the 2018 midterms as a “potential target.” In March, Vox’s Alex Ward reported that Trump had still done nothing to deter Russia from meddling again, failing to give Adm. Michael Rogers, who leads US Cyber Command, authority to go on the offensive:
The problem, according to Rogers, is he needs specific authorization from the president to go on offense and directly disrupt the hackers’ operations. Without that, he sees no reason why Russia would stop trying to tamper with US elections anytime soon.
Trump later signed a September executive order allowing the US to automatically sanction any foreigner caught trying to interfere in US elections, but the president is still reluctant to acknowledge that Russia interfered in the last one, at times publicly contradicting the US intelligence community. It’s unclear whether the Trump administration will be applying these new sanctions to Russia and Putin over the midterms.
On the Monday before Election Day, Coats, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and FBI Director Christopher Wray released a statement saying there was no evidence that a foreign government had compromised the midterms, but confirming that Russia and other countries had made attempts.
That same day, the Boston Globe reported that more than 160 instances of suspected interference had been logged since August 1.