Watch: As Russia Meddled, “Partisan Positioning” Slowed the U.S. Response

November 1, 2017
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by Patrice Taddonio Assistant Director of Audience Development

As Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election continues to dominate the headlines, FRONTLINE’s two-part documentary, Putin’s Revenge, concludes on Wednesday with an in-depth look at how U.S. intelligence agencies came to believe Russian President Vladimir Putin targeted the election, the reaction under President Barack Obama, and the ongoing fallout in the Trump administration.

In the above excerpt from Putin’s Revenge, FRONTLINE examines how the Obama White House and the Republican-led Congress reacted in the summer of 2016 when the CIA says it discovered direct evidence of Putin’s personal involvement in efforts to interfere in the election.

As Putin’s Revenge explores, some inside the White House wanted Obama to sound the alarm to the American people immediately. But the president resisted aggressive responses.

“Overriding all of this was President Obama’s concern about not doing anything that was going to become a self-fulfilling prophesy for the Russians, which was to call into question the integrity of the election,” former CIA Director John Brennan tells FRONTLINE.

Instead, the film reports, the president wanted Congressional Republicans to join him in a bipartisan call-out of Putin and Russian interference. But Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressed skepticism about the intelligence, and warned that he wouldn’t join an effort to publicly challenge Putin.

“They’re told by Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader of the Senate, that, ‘If you do that, we are going to interpret that as you putting the thumb on the scales for Hillary Clinton,’” says Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker.

“It’s a moment when politics and partisan positioning appears to take precedence over national security,” Greg Miller of The Washington Post tells FRONTLINE. “In other words, they are so worried about each other, the Democrats and Republicans as adversaries, that they can’t get around the idea that there is a bigger adversary.”

For the full story, watch part two of Putin’s Revenge Wednesday night on FRONTLINE. From filmmaker Michael Kirk and his team, the documentary draws on more than 50 in-depth interviews with heads of U.S. intelligence agencies, diplomats, Russian politicians, historians and journalists to tell the epic story of how Putin came to see the United States as an enemy — and why he decided to target an American election.

FRONTLINE’s two-part documentary, Putin’s Revenge, continues this Wednesday night at 10 p.m. EST/9 p.m. CST on PBS stations and online. 

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