Omaha, NE.—Former Congressman Brad Ashford, long a proponent of bipartisan politics, now says when it comes to the Russian hack of the 2016 presidential campaign it’s a pox on both parties.
Earlier this year, Democrat Ashford went on national TV to tell the country how his unsuccessful 2016 re-election campaign was also targeted by the Russians and to demand Congressional action to prevent any repeats—action that has been lacking.
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In an updated analysis released to News Channel Nebraska Ashford says, “I believe toxic partisanship and a winning-at-any-cost attitude in politics today prevented Congress from acting in 2016.”
Here’s Ashford’s latest assessment in full:
Russian intrusion into 2016 elections; Have we learned our lesson?
By Brad Ashford
As we approach the 2018 midterms, we must not forget the assault on our democracy that was the 2016 election. I don’t know whether the outcome of the 2016 elections would have been different had the Russian hacking not occurred. Much has been written on both sides of that issue. What I do know is that the American people were not aware for most of the campaign season that the Russian government was engaged in a well-organized cyber-attack on the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign and several congressional campaigns including mine. It was not until October 7, 2016, that the Obama Administration announced that the Russians had engaged in the hacking. However, the cyber-attack had been going on for several months prior to October, 2016.
We now know, based on extensive reporting and the 12 indictments of the Russian intelligence officers in July, 2018, that the Russian Government sponsored broad based hacking of emails, analytics, and other records related to the conduct of the Democratic congressional campaigns and the Clinton campaign. They initiated a disinformation campaign on social media aimed at Clinton and congressional campaigns. They targeted and posted information on several social media accounts intended to divide the Democrats and the country. Though I was notified of the hacking in late July, 2016 I was never informed about the extent of the attack even though the Russians had actually been hacking emails of both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee for months and leaders of both political parties knew it.
Why wasn’t anything done to bring this attack to the attention of the American people? Though the Trump campaign and other Republican campaigns were not attacked, it has been reported that Democratic leaders unsuccessfully requested that their Republican counterparts agree not to use any hacked information during the campaign. During a rally on July 27, 2016, then-candidate Trump suggested that the Russians could hopefully find the missing 30,000 Clinton emails. On the same date, the Russians hacked Clinton’s personal email server.
In the last few weeks of the campaign, WikiLeaks released portions of sensitive emails hacked by the Russians from Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta. This capped off months of disinformation spread by the Russians on social media. In the last 10 days of the campaign, Clinton’s lead fell within the margin of error. It is not certain why Clinton lost. What is certain is that the American voters lost in 2016.
Negative campaigning is a fact of life. When it happens we can debate whether it works. It is bad enough when extremist groups here post false defamatory information about a candidate. However, a cyber-attack by a foreign adversary on our democratic process—no matter which party is targeted— is equivalent to an act of war. It is incredibly serious. Whether or not Trump colluded with the Russians, the larger issue is how did this happen, why did we not respond, and what are going to do in the future? This attack happened over two years ago. Congress has done very little except expand sanctions that don’t seem to work.
I believe toxic partisanship and a winning-at-any-cost attitude in politics today prevented Congress from acting in 2016. I didn’t discuss the hacking of my emails for two years because I did not want to make excuses for my loss. Looking back on that campaign with the information I have now makes me very sad for the American people. It was not a free and fair election and must never happen again.
Ashford was the U.S. Representative for Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District from 2015 to 2017. He was formerly a member of the Nebraska Legislature, representing the 6th district from 1987 to 1995 and the 20th district from 2007 to 2015.