Paul Ryan's Patriotism an Issue?
Urban Milwaukee // Bruce Murphy
You might call it a challenge to Ryan Costello’s patriotism.
The Republican congressman from Pennsylvania learned last fall about derogatory information leaked against his Democratic opponent Mike Parrish. The illegally hacked documents, published by The Hill, showed that Democratic Party officials did not like Parrish and worked aggressively to recruit an alternative candidate. Parrish owned a company that had been sued eight times, had been delinquent on his taxes and was named in a 2013 lawsuit “alleging racketeering and corruption,” the hacked Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (D.C.C.C.) documents said.
It was juicy information that could be used in attack ads against Parrish. However, the likely hacker, as The Hill’s story noted, was “widely believed to be… Russian intelligence.”
Costello never used the information, as an explosive story by the New York Times reports. “We believed it was neither necessary nor appropriate,” Vincent Galko, a campaign consultant to Mr. Costello, told the Times, “to use information from a possible foreign source to influence the election.”
But a number of other Republican House candidates did use information hacked by Russian intelligence — and clearly intended to influence the American elections — against nearly a dozen Democratic opponents, as the Times story has documented.
The Times story makes clear that Wisconsin congressman and Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan knew this was going on and took no action. The document dump from Russian intelligence included confidential information about Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, the chairman of the D.C.C.C., who wrote a letter to his GOP counterpart, Ryan, asking the National Republican Congressional Committee not to use the documents.
“The N.R.C.C.’s use of documents stolen by the Russians plays right into the hands of one of the United States’ most dangerous adversaries,” Luján’s Aug. 29 letter said. “Put simply, if this action continues, the N.R.C.C. will be complicit in aiding the Russian government in its effort to influence American elections.”
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi “sent a similar letter in early September to Mr. Ryan,” the Times reports. “Neither received a response. By October, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a “super PAC” tied to Mr. Ryan, had used the stolen material in another advertisement, attacking [Democratic House candidate] Mr. Garcia during the general election in Florida.”
But it gets worse. Ryan also heard from the nation’s top intelligence experts about the problem. As the Washington Post has reported, President Barack Obama had dispatched his counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco, FBI Director James B. Comey and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson “to make the pitch for a ‘show of solidarity and bipartisan unity’ against Russian interference in the election,” as a senior administration official told the Post.
Ryan was among the top 12 congressional leaders invited to the meeting. “In a secure room in the Capitol used for briefings involving classified information, administration officials broadly laid out the evidence U.S. spy agencies had collected, showing Russia’s role in cyber-intrusions in at least two states and in hacking the emails of the Democratic organizations and individuals,” the Post reported.
“And they made a case for a united, bipartisan front in response to what one official described as ‘the threat posed by unprecedented meddling by a foreign power in our election process.’”
Ryan’s comments, if he had any, are not reported. “But within weeks of that briefing, Ryan’s super pac was using information provided to them via this meddling to attack a Democratic candidate” writes Nancy LeTourneau of the Washington Monthly.
“Speaker Ryan can make all of the meaningless statements he wants to about how it is unacceptable for a foreign government to interfere in our elections. But before those words have any actual meaning, he needs to answer some very real questions about how his own political organization knowingly participated with that interference,” LeTourneau charges.
Legally, Ryan has no control over the Super PAC, but he might have issued a statement to all House Republicans as early as September discouraging the use of illegally hacked material believed to come from a foreign adversary. He might, like Ryan Costello, have done the patriotic thing. Instead Ryan did nothing.
But it gets worse. Because Ryan, while declaring that “any intervention by Russia” in America’s elections “is especially problematic,” has repeatedly “stopped short of calling for a congressional investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election,” as the Huffington Post has noted.
Ryan has said he supports a continuing investigation by Representative Devin Nunes of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, but precisely where Nunes is going with that investigation is unclear. Nunes told the Times his committee would be “conducting vigorous oversight” of the U.S. intelligence agencies’ investigations concluding the Russians deliberately targeted the Democratic committee and candidates with cyber attacks.
So does Ryan support “investigating how Russia reportedly hacked the Democratic National Committee… in an attempt to sway the presidential election?” the Huffington Post asked. “That question still hasn’t been answered, and Ryan’s office did not respond to attempts to clarify his stance.”
By contrast, Republican Senator John McCain had no problem capturing the deadly gravity of the issue; he called the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and related accounts “another form of warfare” and warned against underestimating the intentions of Russian President Vladimir Putin,” labeling him “a thug and a murderer and a killer and a KGB agent.”
But given that House candidates overseen by Ryan and the Super PAC cooperated with the Russian’s cyber warfare, one can imagine Ryan might be leery of a full investigation of the details, which might raise questions about Ryan himself. As White House press secretary Josh Earnest has noted, Congress “has a ‘special responsibility’ to investigate the ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, because those connections were widely known before the election,” the Times reported. “He added that, for Capitol Hill Republicans, how to ‘reconcile their political strategy and their patriotism is something they’re going to have to explain.’”
Ryan hasn’t had much of an explanation. “Paul Ryan has put partisanship and political expediency before principle and patriotism,” charges Scot Ross of the liberal One Wisconsin Institute. “He’s refused to take a strong stand and lead the House of Representatives in investigating gravely serious allegations of tampering in our elections by an unfriendly foreign government.”