The Slatest

In 2016, McConnell Threatened to Frame Pre-Election Intelligence About Russians as a Partisan Attack, New Book Reveals

Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell in the U.S. Capitol.
Donald Trump walks with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after a meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 10, 2016.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

When Sen. Mitch McConnell was told by then–CIA Director John Brennan before the 2016 election that Vladimir Putin and Russia were attempting to interfere with the goal of assisting Donald Trump, McConnell’s response took him aback, according to Greg Miller, a Washington Post reporter who has just released a book about Putin, Trump, and the election. The majority leader said he wouldn’t sign on to any condemnation of Russia’s actions and that if the administration went public with the intelligence, McConnell would in turn call out Brennan as a partisan intervening on behalf of Hillary Clinton, Miller colorfully revealed in a CNN interview Tuesday.

While the broad outlines of this story have been known for a long time, Miller’s account adds a new level of detail to McConnell’s political machinations in the run-up to the election. In a Frontline documentary from November, Miller said that the Obama administration was “so concerned about politicizing intelligence” that aides didn’t want Obama himself to publicly denounce the Russians without the support and buy-in of leaders in Congress—including Republicans.

Jeh Johnson, the secretary of homeland security for the last four years of the Obama administration, describes meetings between top intelligence officials and congressional leadership as well as the heads and ranking members of the intelligence and foreign affairs committees in which they told the lawmakers what the intelligence community knew about Russia’s efforts to influence the election. McConnell “expressed skepticism,” Frontline reported, “and warned that he would not join an effort to publicly challenge Putin.”

The Washington Post had previously reported that in September 2016, “during a secret briefing for congressional leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell … voiced doubts about the veracity of the intelligence.” In early October 2016, the intelligence community eventually issued a statement saying that it was “confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations,” but never specified who was being hacked or which candidate Russia was trying to help win.

The irony is not just that Trump would win the election, which the Obama administration thought incredibly unlikely, but that the administration would then be roundly criticized by its supporters and then by the Trump White House and Trump himself for not doing enough to challenge Russia’s conduct.