Former UN Ambassador John Bolton looked at Russia’s effort to undermine the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Friday’s Breitbart News Daily with SiriusXM host Raheem Kassam.
“To the United States in particular, it’s a mortal threat if our institutions are called into question, if our people lose faith in them. You can see the kind of backbiting that’s going on, back and forth. People have said, why would the Russians undertake cyberwar efforts that really tried to damage both sides? The answer is because anything that undercuts people’s faith in our basic institutions is a plus from their perspective,” Bolton said.
“I view this as an existential threat to the idea of America,” he stressed. “If our Constitution is impaired, we’re in trouble.”
“I think what you need to do over a period of time – it’s not going to be done in one bill, in any case – is build up structures of deterrence that say to Russia or any other country, ‘You are not going to interfere in our elections without bearing a substantial cost.’ Indeed, the cost should be seen as so high that they deter the adversary from interfering in the first place,” he advised.
“I don’t think we’ve imposed enough costs on Russia for what they’ve done,” Bolton judged. “I think we need to know more. Certainly those of us who are on the outside, we haven’t seen the classified information, so it’s hard to describe exactly what our counter-measures ought to be. But they should not be limited to the kinds of pinprick sanctions in this bill.”
Kassam asked Bolton to define Russia’s election interference, pointing to the counter-argument that the United States has overtly attempted to influence elections in many other countries, from Ukraine and Libya to President Barack Obama’s unsuccessful effort to thwart the Brexit vote.
Bolton replied by emphasizing the importance of protecting American national interests.
“We’ve interfered in elections around the world,” he said. “For example, in Europe after World War 2, to prevent Italy from being taken over by the Communists. We pursue our interests. Other people pursue their interests. That’s the way the world works.”
“What I’m saying is, when people try to interfere in our elections, we’re entitled to take defensive actions,” he argued. “If people don’t like our foreign policy, they’re entitled to take defensive actions. I just don’t think, collectively, we’re taking this seriously enough.”
“The general public, I think, does not have a full understanding of what the Russians or others may have tried to do. It’s a debate we’re not having effectively, because this information has not been declassified yet,” he said.
“I just want to underline, so people understand it: there are two separate issues here that have become confused, I think, in many minds. One is the Russian effort to undermine the integrity of our electoral process. That’s a very distinct issue from the second one, which is ‘did the Trump campaign collude with Russia?’” Bolton explained.
“On the second, I still have yet to hear a single scrap of evidence that any such collusion took place,” he noted. “On the other hand, everybody who has looked at the classified information, at least that I’m aware of, thinks that it’s beyond dispute that the Russians were engaged in the first activity, which is trying to undercut the election.”
Bolton said this was not the first time the credibility of a U.S. election has been undermined, but “this is probably the first time we may have appreciated the extent of the effort.”
“I think it’s acute now, really at more than any other time, because of the extent that we’ve engaged in computerized voting practices,” he said. “Therefore, the risk that some outside force can manipulate those results is upon us. I have to say, I think I’m pretty high-tech, but I much prefer using a pencil on a vote, and folding it myself, and putting it in the ballot box.”
Returning to the question of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Bolton postulated that if saboteurs had been able to hack into the voting machines of a state, they could have unleashed chaos by simply reducing every vote total to zero.
“What it does is say to people, my God, if they could do that in that state, zero out all the votes, who knows what they’re doing in other states?” he said. “That’s the sort of thing that worries me. And look, that capability – we’ve seen China hack into the U.S. government’s personnel system. My personnel records, along with tens of millions of others, now reside in Beijing, copies of them anyway. There’s a lot going on out there in the cyber world that I think the general public doesn’t understand. I don’t think we have a good appreciation of it.”
“I would hope this debate would produce some better understanding of that. Instead, it’s just the partisans attacking Trump’s collusion with the Russian government,” Bolton lamented. “As to which, as I have said, we’ve seen no evidence. I saw a Democratic member of the House on Fox, I think it was on Tucker Carlson the other night, say that Trump’s deep involvement with Russia was interfering with his ability to get the agenda through. I wish Tucker had said to him, ‘What deep involvement? For God’s sake, let’s have some facts here.’”
Bolton wanted listeners to understand that he is not suggesting the question of foreign attacks on American elections is limited to arguments about whether or not the Trump 2016 campaign colluded with Russia.
“I’m saying it’s about Russian – and possibly other, Chinese, Iranian, North Korea – efforts to impair our democratic institutions and undercut all of our fellow citizens’ faith in our ability to govern ourselves. That’s the key point,” he said.
Kassam concluded the interview by asking for Bolton’s take on the situation in Afghanistan, where recent deadly attacks by the Taliban have resulted in calls for a much stronger American military presence.
“I think we have to define our objectives more carefully before we talk about troop levels,” Bolton replied. “I don’t think that’s been accomplished yet.”
“I do think the risk of a Taliban, ISIS, al-Qaeda, you-name-it terrorist takeover in Afghanistan again is very dangerous to the United States, because of the return to a pre-9/11 safe haven where they could plot further terrorist attacks,” he warned.
“But I tell you, the situation is even worse in Pakistan,” Bolton continued. “If the radicals take over in Afghanistan, the risk of them taking over in Pakistan is even greater.”
“The highest court in Pakistan has just removed Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister, from office,” he noted. “Pakistan’s government has not been stable since partition. The risk of radicals inside the Pakistani military, radicals like the Pakistani equivalent of the Taliban taking over, I think has now increased.”
“I think this instability in Pakistan is potentially very troubling. Let’s not forget – if the radicals get in charge there, they’ve got a substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons. It would be Iran on steroids immediately. So these developments in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, just in the past days, I think should be a source of real concern for the United States,” said Bolton.
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