NYT: The President Of The United States Is “The Gravest Threat To The Election”
President Donald Trump’s comments at the end of last night’s first presidential debate “were a stark reminder that the most direct threat to the electoral process now comes from the president of the United States himself,” wrote New York Times national security correspondent David Sanger.
President Trump’s angry insistence in the last minutes of Tuesday’s debate that there was no way the presidential election could be conducted without fraud amounted to an extraordinary declaration by a sitting American president that he would try to throw any outcome into the courts, Congress or the streets if he was not re-elected.
Mr. Trump’s unwillingness to say he would abide by the result, and his disinformation campaign about the integrity of the American electoral system, went beyond anything President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia could have imagined. All Mr. Putin has to do now is amplify the president’s message, which he has already begun to do.
- Trump offered nothing new during the debate, having spread the same disinformation in tweets and at his rallies in recent weeks, but this was the first time the president put it all together in front of such a large audience, Sanger noted.
- Trump “began the debate with a declaration that balloting already underway was ‘a fraud and a shame’ and proof of ‘a rigged election.’”
- The president then followed with a directive to his supporters to “go into the polls” and “watch very carefully,” which Sanger interpreted as code words encouraging a voter intimidation campaign.
And Mr. Trump’s declaration that the Supreme Court would have to “look at the ballots” and that “we might not know for months because these ballots are going to be all over” seemed to suggest that he would try to place the election in the hands of a court where he has been rushing to cement a conservative majority with his nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
If the highest court does not bend to his will, Sanger wrote, Trump “has already raised the possibility of using the argument of a fraudulent election to throw the decision to the House of Representatives, where he believes he has an edge because every state delegation gets one vote in resolving an election with no clear winner.”
Sanger said that U.S. intelligence officials — who have worked to assure the public for months that an accurate and secure election was possible — remain concerned that Trump’s fear mongering about voter fraud might not be intended solely for a domestic audience.
They have been worried for some time that his warnings are a signal to outside powers — chiefly the Russians — for their disinformation campaigns, which have seized on his baseless theme that the mail-in ballots are ridden with fraud. But what concerns them the most is that over the next 34 days, the country may begin to see disruptive cyberoperations, especially ransomware, intended to create just enough chaos to prove the president’s point.
- Sanger noted that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, recently said in an interview that he had asked intelligence agencies to look for examples of Russians incorporating Trump’s words into their schemes.
“Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the intelligence community started seeing exactly that,” Mr. Schiff said. “It was too enticing and predictable an option for the Russians. They have been amplifying Trump’s false attacks on absentee voting.”
- Sanger also made note that “the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. have been issuing warnings, as recently as 24 hours before the debate, about the dangers of disinformation in what could be a tumultuous time after the election.”
“During the 2020 election season, foreign actors and cybercriminals are spreading false and inconsistent information through various online platforms in an attempt to manipulate public opinion, discredit the electoral process and undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions,” the agencies wrote in a joint public service announcement.
When officials involved in those announcements were asked whether Mr. Trump had different information, which would explain his repeated attacks on the election system, they went silent.
They had little choice. It was apparent to them that the chief disinformation source was their boss. And for that, they had no playbook.