Russia meddled in the 2016 election in part as a retaliation against the U.S. influencing elections in eastern Europe, Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul said Sunday.
“I think really we mistake our response if we think it’s about accountability from the Russians,” Paul told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “They are going to spy on us, do spy on us. They are going to interfere in our elections, we also do the same,” Paul said.
The comments, which come just a day before President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, show a realism that neither staunch Republicans or Democrats discuss, which is that Russia attempted various hacking and disinformation campaigns surrounding the 2016 election to discredit former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“I would say it’s not morally equivalent,” Paul said of Russia’s election meddling relating to America’s campaigns to influence foreign elections. “But I think in [Russia’s] mind it is. It’s important to know in your adversary’s mind the way they perceive thing. They react to our interference in their elections and one of the reasons they didn’t like Hillary Clinton, they found her responsible for some of the activity by the U.S. in their elections under the [Former President Barack] Obama administration,” Paul said.
The special counsel investigation into Russian meddling led by Robert Mueller filed indictments Friday against 12 Russians connected to state intelligence services for allegedly hacking and attempting to hack the Democratic National Committee and other organizations to steal privileged information leading up to the 2016 election.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said that there was “no allegation in this indictment that the Americans knew that they were corresponding with Russian intelligence officers” in announcing the charges.
Paul said that there were other ways to protect America’s electoral system, since it’s unlikely that foreign countries will stop trying to influence our elections.
“We all do it,” Paul said of spying and election meddling. “We need to make sure or electoral process is protected,” Paul said. Because the Russia issue has become intensely partisan, “we’ve forgotten the most important thing is the integrity of the election,” Paul said.
Paul advocates making sure electronic records are “decentralized and we don’t store all of the data in one place even for a state.” Paul also advocated for a backup system.
Most of Russia’s meddling came in the form of advertising online, and that’s trickier to stop. “Can we restrict the Russians? We might be able to in some ways,” Paul said, but emphasized that it’s not reasonable to expect the Russians to admit their attempts to interfere.
“We’ve wanted Russians to admit it. They are not going to admit it, the same way we’re not going to admit we were involved in the Ukrainian elections or in the Russian elections. So all countries that can spy interfere, do. All countries that want to interfere in elections and have the ability to, they try,” Paul said.
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