Jeff Sessions just confessed his negligence on Russia

But Sessions’s answer did not inspire confidence: “Probably not. We’re not. And the matter is so complex that for most of us, we are not able to fully grasp the technical dangers that are out there.”

Sessions acknowledged “disruption and interference, it appears, by Russian officials” and noted that it “requires a real review.” But he said nothing about what the department is doing to ready itself.

Sasse followed up, giving him an explicit chance to spell it out. “So what steps has the department taken,” or should it take, “to learn the lessons of 2016 … in fighting foreign interference?” he asked.

Crickets from Sessions.

The department, he said, is specifically reviewing commercial, rather than political, interference from foreigners and the theft of trade secrets and data — an enforcement priority that in fact long predates the Trump administration. “We’ve got indictments that deal with some of those issues,” he said, perhaps not even realizing that he was not talking about the same subject Sasse was asking about. He noted that the department’s national security division has some “really talented people” — which is true but hardly constitutes a step he is taking to combat the Russia threat. And he touted the FBI’s experts, too. Then he acknowledged that, despite all this, the department’s capabilities are still not at the appropriate level yet.

As to a specific answer to Sasse’s question — that is, what has the department done or is planning to do to confront information operations threats from Russia in the future? Not a word.


In short, the attorney general of the United States, though acknowledging and expressing confidence in the intelligence community’s assessment of foreign interference in the 2016 election and admitting that the government isn’t doing enough to guard against such activity in the future, could not identify a single step his department is taking or should take in that direction. He could not suggest a proactive role the department might play against foreign information operations. He could not even identify a policy review currently underway on the subject, though he agreed that one was appropriate. He could not identify legislation that might be helpful. And he could not name any departmental activity, beyond the FBI’s having capabilities, in support of states that might be targeted in upcoming elections.

This was a frank display of ignorant complacency in the face of a clear and demonstrated threat. The question of what exactly the Justice Department should be doing, what proactive role it should be playing, is a complicated one. But here’s a suggestion to begin with: DOJ should be at least thinking about the problem that Sasse posed. The attorney general’s testimony Wednesday gave no indication that the department is even doing that.

Read the full article: Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes, “Jeff Sessions just confessed his negligence on Russia,” Foreign Policy (20 October 2017)