It’s been barely a week since Special Counsel Robert Mueller unveiled indictments of 13 Russians and 3 Russian entities – including one close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin – and already Democrats are asking Congress for exorbitant sums of money to stop Russia’s army of internet trolls from “sowing discord” ahead of the US election – even though anybody who reads the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal is by now no doubt well-acquainted with the reality that these suspected trolls aren’t really all that interested in US politics.
According to Reuters, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are asking Congress for $300 million for the FBI to combat purported Russian disinformation campaigns ahead of the 2018 midterms in November. The big ask comes about a week after leaders of the US intelligence community testified to a Senate committee about the serious of the purported threat.
Democrats are asking that the money be included in the next continuing resolution, which must be signed into law before the March 23 deadline to avert another government shutdown. Republican leaders have been noncommittal.
Of course, the Reuters story fails to point out that $300 million is 3,000 times more than the Russian agents allegedly spent on Facebook ads ahead of (and after) the November 2016 vote.
Citing warnings from intelligence agencies that Russia is trying to influence the upcoming vote, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House of Representatives Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi asked that the additional funds be included in a bill to fund the government which Congress aims to pass by March 23.
“This additional funding should be targeted to ensure the resources and manpower to counter the influence of hostile foreign actors operating in the U.S., especially Russian operatives operating on our social media platforms,” Schumer, Pelosi and the top Democrats on the Senate and House Appropriations Committees wrote in a letter.
They sent the letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Republican aides said the proposal, along with many others, would be considered as the spending legislation is written.
Leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies warned a Senate committee last week that Russia is trying to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections, when control of Congress is up for grabs, much as it did during the 2016 U.S. campaign.
And on Friday, the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians and 13 Russian companies with conspiracy to tamper with the 2016 race.
Moscow has repeatedly denied meddling in US politics, calling Mueller’s indictments absurd. In addition to this $300 million, Democrats also want a “substantial” increase in funding for the Department of Homeland Security and Election Assistance Commission to upgrade state election systems, which somebody (maybe the Russians?) tried to infiltrate.
Meanwhile, Schumer is also demanding that the White House write its own report on how Russia might try to interfere in the upcoming vote – because apparently a special counsel and three concommitant Congressional investigations isnt’ enough.
Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar said on a conference call with reporters that she would back $386 million for states.
Members of Congress have repeatedly decried what they see as federal officials’ failure to do more to work with states to protect the election system.
Homeland Security said last year that 21 states had experienced initial probing of their systems from Russian hackers and a small number of networks were compromised.
But three U.S. intelligence officials said protecting sources of information about the use of cyberspace to meddle in elections are a major obstacle to closer cooperation with state officials because much of the intelligence is so classified that it cannot be shared with anyone who does not have a high-level security clearance.
Schumer also said Democrats want Trump administration officials to issue a public report detailing how Russia might interfere in the 2018 U.S. vote.
They also want a classified report for state officials and relevant congressional committees.
Given the FBI’s recent track record of stopping major crimes, we imagine this $300 million – assuming it makes it into the final appropriation – will be put to good use.
What do you think?