Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates Says Case Isn’t Closed On Russian Interference

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On Sunday, former defense secretary Robert Gates criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s call for the United States to move on from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, arguing that the issue remains an important one, The Washington Post reports.

McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, ultimately declared “case closed” when it comes to the Mueller report and the ongoing analysis of the special counsel’s investigation. Gates, however, in an appearance CBS News’s Face the Nation, said that not only is the issue not yet resolved, but that the United States had not reacted strongly enough in the face of Russian interference in a national election.

Gates is a Republican who served as defense secretary under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

“The piece of the Mueller report about Russian interference is not ‘case closed,'” said Gates. “And, frankly, I think elected officials who depend on honest elections to get elected ought to place as a very high priority measures to protect the American electoral system against interference by foreigners.”

Gates also reacted to news reports of President Donald Trump discussing the investigation on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month. Trump and Putin reportedly discussed the end of the Mueller investigation, but Trump did not seem to raise concerns about the prospect of Russian interference, which was covered at length in the report.

Gates called Trump’s handling of the discussion a mistake and indicated that the president should have warned Putin that further interference would yield consequences for Russia.

Gates’s characterization of that situation echoed that of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York. In a letter sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Schumer urged that the administration press Putin on the issue during their scheduled meeting this week in Sochi, Russia.

“During your meeting with Vladimir Putin, it is critical that you warn him that any action to interfere in our elections will be met with an immediate and robust response,” Schumer said in the letter. “President Trump’s approach to dealing with President Putin, especially on this vital issue, must change. I urge you to make absolutely clear to President Putin that interference in U.S. elections will not be tolerated.”

When questioned about the possible drivers of Trump’s uncharacteristic approach to diplomacy with Russia, Gates did not have a clear idea. He posted out that while he didn’t personally know Trump’s motivations, it did seem as if everyone other than the president seems to have a clearer view of the realities of the Russians.