Denis McDonough, President Obama’s former chief of staff, on Sunday blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for a “watered down” congressional response to reports of foreign election interference in September 2016.
“It took over three weeks to get that statement worked out. It was dramatically watered down,” Mr. McDonough said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Mr. McDonough was referring to a Sept. 2016 letter from top congressional leaders, including Mr. McConnell, warning states of “malefactors” seeking to use cyberattacks to disrupt the elections while not naming Russia specifically.
He said Mr. McConnell and Mr. McConnell alone insisted on watering it down, and that he didn’t know why.
He also said the administration went to leaders in Congress to ask them for help in ensuring states had what they needed in terms of election security measures.
“The lack of urgency that we saw from the Republican leadership in 2016, we continue to see to this day today,” Mr. McDonough said. “It’s beyond time for Congress to work with the administration, to work with the states, to ensure that our electoral systems are ready to go. This is not a game.”
Mr. McConnell had questioned the underpinnings of underlying intelligence on the matter, the New York Times reported last year.
Mr. McConnell’s office also pointed to a Washington Post op-ed from Mr. McDonough in July 2017 saying the bipartisan outreach was ultimately successful, and that he had asked Democratic leaders to withhold a public response at the time.
“During this period we took extraordinary steps to avoid letting our legitimate concern about Russian interference be characterized as partisan,” Mr. McDonough wrote. “For instance, I asked two Democrats to withhold a public statement on the matter mainly to avoid politicizing the issue, and they initially honored that request.”