July 2017 Editorial Winner

If Lankford says Russia meddled, it's probably true
Kim Poindexter, Tahlequah Daily Press

Whatever side of the political aisle you sit on, you have to admire the tenacity and candor of Sen. James Lankford when it comes to Russia’s purported involvement in the 2016 U.S. election process.
Oklahoma’s congressional delegation is sometimes overlooked by the national media in favor of more well-known or flamboyant politicians. Sen. Jim Inhofe, thanks to his hair-raising incidents as a pilot and his stance on certain issues, is often a source of ridicule. But Lankford is increasingly being sought out for comment and viewed as a steady hand on the shaky rudder of national politics and a rational voice on many topics, though his conservative credentials remain firmly intact.
Last week, he was interviewed by NPR’s Rachel Martin about the Russian situation, and what he said sheds doubt on President Trump’s repeated denials of Russian tampering and his characterization of the investigations as a “witch hunt.” Trump fans, with their unquestioning loyalty that no politician in history has ever deserved, don’t like that.
While some Republicans don’t want to admit to the reality of the tampering or dismiss it as irrelevant, Lankford is among those who has been steadfast in his criticism. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he has always believed the Russians meddled, though he reserves judgment as to what degree. He told NPR he’s seeking full details of the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian dignitary who promised to dish some dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Lankford did not mince words when he told NPR: “There’s no question that the Russians were reaching out, trying to find ways to be able to interfere in this election through cyberintelligence, through gathering intel on different individuals face to face, and then trying to be able to penetrate campaigns.”
“No question.” That seems clear, so why are many conservatives unwilling to believe it may have happened? Lankford also doesn’t necessarily accept Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial of having a hand in the hacking. Asked whether he was “satisfied” with Putin’s claim, Lankford laughed and said: “No, I’m not satisfied that Putin denied it. I’m not surprised that he denied it. ...But everyone in the world knows they did it. ...”
“Everyone in the world.” Everyone, it seems, except certain Trump fans who simply cannot and will not believe anyone on the president’s team may have done anything wrong.
Lankford went further, and bluntly said he didn’t believe Trump put enough pressure on Putin: “A verbal back and forth – did you do it? No, I didn’t – is not real pressure. Real pressure is what you do with sanctions and what you do to be able to apply pain.” He seemed dismissive of the president’s tweets about “moving forward in working constructively with Russia.” He said there should be consequences for what the Russians did – and what any other country does – when it comes to cybersecurity breaches. Immediate “cooperation” isn’t in the cards.
Why is it that many Oklahomans, who have staunchly backed Lankford on other matters, have a blind spot when it comes to the possibility that Russia tampered with our election processes? That doesn’t necessarily mean Trump’s victory was illegitimate, nor will it offer a path for Hillary Clinton to slink into the Oval Office. It means there’s a problem that the U.S. needs to address before Russia, or some other country, steamrolls over our democracy. It may also mean that a naysayer, when he or she looks in the mirror, sees the face of someone who favors Russia over our own intelligence community – and that’s not the face of a patriot.
The Russia investigations – with the Senate, with Robert Mueller, and with anyone else – need to continue. If it’s good enough for James Lankford, it should be good enough for the rest of us.

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