King: Trump Undermines Defense, U.S. Under Russian Attack ‘With Hands Tied’

Sen. Angus King (I-ME), questioned former FBI Director James Comey during his testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, on his past relationship with President Donald Trump, and his role in the Russian interference investigation, in the Senate Hart building on Capitol Hill, on Thursday, June 8, 2017. (Photo by Cheriss May) (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto)
NurPhoto via Getty Images

At a Tuesday Senate Intelligence Committee meeting, Sen. Angus King (I-ME) scolded the president — and his appointees — for not responding to Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, saying that without a clear doctrine of deterrence there was no reason for the Kremlin not to continue to interfere in American politics without fear of consequence.

We cannot confront this threat, which is a serious one, with a whole of government response when the leader of the government continues to deny it exists.” King observed. “We’re trying to fight a global battle with our hands tied behind our back.” 

King referred to the opening statement from Director of National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, calling his assessment of the 2016 Kremlin disinformation operation during the U.S. election “stunning.”

“They will work to use cyber operations to achieve strategic objectives unless they face repercussions for their operations,” King summarized. “Right now there are none! Is that not the case? There are no repercussions. We have no doctrine of deterrence. How are we going to get them to stop doing this if all we do is patch our software and try to defend ourselves?”

Trump has been slow to punish Russia, and, without the President on board, King said he has faced backlash from constituents for pushing for Russia to face consequences. “My problem is I talk to people in Maine that say, ‘The whole thing is a witch-hunt and hoax because the president told me.'”

I am sick and tired of going to these hearings, which I have been going to for five years, where everybody talks about cyber attacks, and our country still does not have a policy or a doctrine or a strategy for dealing with them,” King said. The Obama administration, he observed, “didn’t do it either.”

“Director Pompeo, you understand this issue, do you not?” King said to CIA director Mike Pompeo. “We have to have a doctrine of deterrence — if they strike us in cyber, they’ll be struck back in some way.”

Pompeo demurred, saying the public nature of the hearing precluded him from speaking about the ways the U.S. had punished the Russian government for the 2016 cyberattacks. “I’d argue your statement that we have done nothing does not reflect the responses that frankly some of us at this table have engaged in and the United States government engaged in, during and before this administration,” Pompeo said. Pompeo deferred questions about response to Russia later in the hearing, as well, telling Jack Reed (D-RI) that “We have a significant effort, I’m happy to talk to you about in closed session, and it’s not just our effort. It is certainly an all-of-IC effort.”

That wasn’t good enough for King. “Deterrence doesn’t work unless the other side knows it,” he said. “The doomsday machine in Dr. Strangelove didn’t work because the Russians hadn’t told us about it.”

Coats was less coy, saying that 9-11 had happened because of a similar failure of intelligence. If someone is attacking you and there’s no retribution or response, it is going to incentivize more contacts,” he said. “Right now, there are a lot of blank checks for things we need to do.”

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