Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirtsjen Nielsen has been in the hot seat for several months as she has been caught in the middle of Donald Trump’s immigration battles.
In May we reported that Nielsen considered resigning after her boss severely admonished her in front of his entire cabinet for failing to stop illegal border crossings.
She stayed on the job and has been loyal to Trump’s misguided zero tolerance policy, including the policy of separating children from their parents at the border. As she defended Trump’s policies she told several lies to the press and to the public about what the law required her agency to do with people seeking asylum in the U.S.
After the public became aware of how many children were being taken from their parents at the border, Nielsen attracted demonstrators to her home and at restaurants who were protesting her policies and how she was handling child separations.
Needless to say, Kirstjen Nielsen does not have a lot of credibility with the American people at this point. We should be able to trust the head of Homeland Security, but that is not the case. So when she said yesterday that DHS was not seeing much evidence of Russian interference in this year’s midterm elections we’re not sure we can believe her. Is she telling the truth or is she lying again to protect Donald Trump, as she has done in the past?
TIME Magazine reported that on Saturday Nielsen spoke to a convention of state secretaries of state in Philadelphia. These are the state officials who are in charge of elections — including election security — in their respective states.
According to TIME, Nielsen said “there are no signs that Russia is targeting this year’s midterm elections with the same scale or scope it targeted the 2016 presidential election.” She also added that “some level of Russian interference is still present” and told the secretaries of state to “remain vigilant.”
Nielsen said that DHS has “noticed persistent Russian efforts using social media, sympathetic spokespeople and other fronts to sow discord and divisiveness amongst the American people, though not necessarily focused on specific politicians or political campaigns,” according to TIME.
The top cyber security official for DHS, Christopher Krebs, also said this week that his agency has “not seen anything that rises to the level of 2016–directed, focused, robust campaign in terms of specific hacking of election systems.”
“But the intelligence community continues to see Russian activity in the sowing discord across the American public,” Krebs added during his congressional testimony on Wednesday.
So if Krebs and Nielsen are to be believed, there is little Russian hacking going on this year, just social media campaigns to create divisions among the American people.
Although DHS has taken steps in recent months to help states secure voting systems, there is no proof that they have done enough to protect the systems from Russian hacking.
The danger here is that the DHS officials will take away the sense of urgency that every state should feel right now about protecting their state election systems from hacking again by Russia. If the secretaries of state are lulled into complacency then that will give a green light to Putin and his Russian hacking experts to interfere in U.S. elections again with the goal of helping Donald Trump.
Even though Trump is not on the ballot this year the 2018 elections will be a referendum on his presidency, and it is possible that an anti-Trump voting backlash will put Democrats in charge of the House of Representatives. If that happens, then Donald Trump will face hostile Congressional hearings that could threaten his presidency. If it doesn’t happen, however, many Americans will believe that the unseen hand of Vladimir Putin was at work throwing the elections to allow Republicans to stay in power, and there will be a real crisis in our democracy.
Editor’s Note 11:21 AM: Replaced the word “expected” with the word “possible” in the last paragraph in regards to the thought that Democrats are poised to possibly take back the House.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.