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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Don't lose sight of Russian meddling

President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin

President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland on July 16, 2018. Credit: AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais

The fact that President Donald Trump did not collude with Russian government agents to sabotage the 2016 presidential election is wonderful news.

Given the massive Russian meddling efforts and the amount of contact between people close to the campaign and powerful Russians, such accusations had to be investigated. But finding out our president and his pals didn’t do such a thing is like finding out our government doesn’t have cancer when a bad blood test is followed up by a clean MRI.

It is, or ought to be, a joyous discovery.

Moving forward, though, the crimes the president and his pals didn’t commit in the run-up to the 2016 election are a lot less important than the crimes the Russians did commit and Trump’s unwillingness to acknowledge those crimes or act to punish them. And even those 2016 crimes, having taken their toll, are now less pressing than the Russians’ ongoing attempts to sabotage the 2020 election, and Trump’s apparent willingness to let such an attack recur.

According to Attorney General William P. Barr, the report from special counsel Robert Mueller states that the Russian government did sabotage the 2016 election just as clearly as it states Trump’s campaign did not participate in those crimes. Mueller has alleged the Russians acted via two methods and leveled criminal charges for both against Russian government agents and civilian workers:

  • The Internet Research Agency, funded by a businessman tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin, created fake social media pages, accounts, memes and profiles. Thirteen Russian workers then used the accounts and American technology meant to disguise the messages’ origins to create and amplify attacks on Hillary Clinton and Trump’s opponents in the Republican primaries, and spread hatred, confusion and social unrest.
  • Russian agents hacked the networks of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and members of Clinton’s campaign staff, stealing emails and arranging for their widespread release.

Technology experts and U.S. intelligence leaders say the Russians interfered with the 2018 congressional elections to sow discord, and that such attacks are being unleashed against the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

Trump, though, has never consistently acknowledged that the Russians interfered in 2016, and that they did so in his favor. He delights in tweeting the demonstrably false accusation that the Russians conspired with Democrats to beat him instead, and will do so in 2020. Sometimes, to switch things up, Trump has argued that the Russians may have never interfered with our elections at all, calling the accusation “a big hoax.”

But the Russians have interfered with our elections. Posing as everything from Black Lives Matter activists to Muslims to white nationalists, they also have worked to spread strife and widen the divides in our nation. And they will do so unless they are stopped.

Our country is under attack by a fierce enemy, with the 2020 election and our national unity in its sights. Trump’s own intelligence leaders say so. If Trump refuses to admit the attacks are happening, confront Putin with the truth and take firm and public action to stop them, he will be guilty of failing his nation.

And this time, no special counsel will be required to confirm such an obvious betrayal.

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.