In Defense of American Democracy

by: Elijah Cummings Special to the AFRO
/ (Courtesy Photo) /

Although it remains to be proven which Americans, if any, actively, knowingly and illegally conspired with the Russians to influence our 2016 elections, the broad scope of the Russian attacks upon our democratic system is becoming increasingly clear.

We must become more united in creating an effective defense.

On February 16, the American people received the announcement by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office of multiple indictments of Russian businesses and nationals.  These foreign agents have been indicted for a criminal conspiracy to interfere with the presidential election in 2016.

I urge every American to carefully consider the revelations contained in these indictments.  We must all better understand the extent of our peril (

“For all of those who have been asking ‘Where is the evidence of a crime?’ This is it,” I observed at the time.  “This is the criminal conspiracy.  This is what President Trump and his allies have repeatedly called a ‘hoax’ and ‘fake news.’  This is what they tried to cover up.  This is what we might never have known if President Trump had been successful in shutting down this investigation.”

Most likely, the Grand Jury’s factual conclusions about Russian interference are not the beginning of the end to our ongoing constitutional drama.  However, they may well be the end of the beginning.

Rep. Elijah Cummings

The indictments (which I must hasten to add are not yet convictions) reveal in startling and extensive detail how the Russians worked to help the Trump campaign.

Of special concern to those of us who are Americans of Color, they also show how the Russians tried to suppress the votes of minorities across the United States in order to help Donald Trump win the presidency (Sections 34, 46 & 95).

The Special Counsel’s probe is still ongoing, and we do not yet know what the ultimate outcome will be.  What is abundantly clear, however, is our collective duty to support the Mueller team’s ability to complete its investigation with total independence and no external interference.

Although it appears that the Russians developed an antipathy for Hillary Clinton and a preference for Donald Trump in 2016, the principal victims of their attacks include every American citizen who has the constitutional right to choose those who will lead us without interference by any foreign power.

By both his inaction and his public statements, President Trump appears to be dominated by an overly personal obsession that our ongoing national security and criminal investigations are all about him.  In sharp contrast, however, many of my colleagues and I remain convinced that the continuing threat to our democratic system is far more profound than the fate of any one candidate in any one election.

Back in 2016, during an interview on CNN and before President Trump was inaugurated, I listened as one of the other guests talked about whether the motive for the Russians’ interference was to sway the election in Donald Trump’s favor.  I made it clear at that time that this focus is a distraction.

When 17 of our intelligence agencies (and, now, a federal grand jury) have concluded that the Russians interfered in our 2016 election, we need to get to the bottom of that and stop it from reoccurring in the future, whatever the Russian motives may have been in 2016.

In this continuing struggle to strengthen our democratic process against all enemies, both foreign and domestic, we are now acutely aware that efforts to divide us, sabotage our faith in our democratic process and subvert our constitution both predated the 2016 presidential election and continue to this very moment.

They pose a clear and present danger to our congressional elections later this year, as the Brennan Center reported earlier this month.

Security and intelligence officials have warned the Senate that Russia would try to interfere in the 2018 elections again, just as it did in 2016.  “We need to inform the American public that this is real,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats urged the Senate Intelligence Committee.

President Trump and Americans on all sides of our nation’s diverse political spectrum must come to terms with this reality.  We are fighting for the soul of our democracy – a cause that is far bigger than the political fate of any President or any of us privileged to serve in the Congress of the United States.

We must take a hard look at constitutionally acceptable ways in which social media can be made less vulnerable to unlawful, partisan manipulation – and we must assure that state-run election systems are less vulnerable to external attacks.

Proposed legislation has been introduced in both the Senate and the House to expand federal aid to the states for upgrading out-of-date voting equipment to make our elections less vulnerable to hacking – legislation that demands immediate action.

Defending our electoral process is central to the solemn oath to defend our Constitution that Donald Trump, as President, and we in the Congress have undertaken.

The sooner that the President and all of my congressional colleagues fulfill our duty, the sooner the United States government will become fully engaged in meeting the challenge to defend our democratic system.

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.