An Unprecedented Attack on our Democracy

January 17, 2017
When Osama Bin Laden ordered members of Al-Qaeda to carry out the brutal murders of thousands of Americans in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, President Bush declared, “Our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts.” America responded with full force after the attack; preparing our military, helping those affected by the attacks, and ensuring that our democracy did not falter in the face of evil. Congress also responded with full force.  They immediately created a bipartisan commission to investigate how the attacks were possible and what was needed to prevent this senseless tragedy from happening again.

Sixteen years later, our country is once again under attack, and this time from Vladimir Putin and his Russian government. On January 6, 2017, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the “Intelligence Report on Russian Hacking,” offering conclusive proof of Russia’s role in the hacking of the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta. The DNI report states that “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.” The report concludes the Kremlin’s influence on the U.S. was the boldest yet, introducing a “new normal” in Russian influence efforts.

Never before has our nation faced such a direct attack that threatens our entire democracy and undermines the sanctity of our electoral system. In order to prevent Russia or any foreign entity from threatening our democracy again, we must do everything possible to prevent intrusions. That’s why Congress must act quickly to establish an independent, bipartisan commission to fully investigate Russia’s role in the 2016 elections.

Similar to the commission established after 9/11, this commission should be established and composed of independent experts and outside professionals to interview witnesses, obtain documents, issue subpoenas, and receive public testimony. It would include rigorous vetting and questioning of officials who can provide further information on Russia’s involvement and make bipartisan recommendations on how to prevent future threats.

Sadly, some have sought to publicly undermine the intelligence community by refusing to accept their findings. As an eight-year veteran of the House Intelligence Committee following the September 11th attacks, I have a broad understanding about the severity of the threats identified in the DNI’s report. If we refuse to accept the intelligence community’s findings, we demonstrate weakness in the face of aggression and invite other hostile countries to conduct cyber-attacks against Americans.

This attack on our democracy transcends politics which is why both Democrats and Republicans have publicly called for further action. A group of bipartisan Senators introduced legislation to punish Russia for their actions. Prominent members of the intelligence community are also calling for a commission, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former CIA Director Mike Morrell, and former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who said that “anything less than a swift investigation will…permit and normalize future interference.”

The election is over. The probe of exactly how Russia interfered in our elections is not. We have been subjected to a direct attack from a foreign government and we must respond with full force. As citizens, we all have a stake in ensuring that our elections remain free, fair, and safe from foreign governments who seek to undermine us, our institutions, and our values. Only a bipartisan, independent commission can provide a comprehensive, public report on the impact of Russian hacking during our elections and provide the American people with a roadmap to ensure that our democracy cannot be hacked, toyed with, diminished or manipulated.

Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo, a Democrat, represents California’s 18th Congressional District. This Op-Ed ran in the January 17th, 2017 edition of the Mercury News.