The White House is refusing to comment on the legitimacy of the recent Russian elections because it doesn’t dictate how other countries operate, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed during Tuesday’s White House press briefing.
“We’re focused on our elections,” Sanders said. “We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate. What we do know is that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has been elected in their country and that’s not something that we can dictate to them, how they operate. We can only focus on the freeness and fairness of our election, something we 100 percent fully support and something we’ll do everything we can to protect, so that bad actors don’t have the opportunity to impact them in any way.”
Sanders was responding to inquiries about President Trump’s phone call with Putin earlier on Tuesday, during which he congratulated Putin for his reelection victory, despite the majority of officials and experts calling it a “sham.”
Pressed on whether the two men discussed Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Sanders said simply, “I don’t believe that was discussed in today’s call.”
Aside from the obvious — that White House concerns about the U.S. elections don’t appear to extend to the very real efforts by outside actors to influence them — the administration since its inception has criticized and dictated how other countries run their affairs. Just this past August, Trump refused to take a phone call from Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro over the leader’s human rights abuses and refusal to hold legitimate elections in the country.
“Since the start of this administration, President Trump has asked that Maduro respect Venezuela’s constitution, hold free and fair elections, release political prisoners, cease all human rights violations, and stop oppressing Venezuela’s great people,” Sanders wrote in a statement at the time. “The Maduro regime has refused to heed this call, which has been echoed around the region and the world. Instead Maduro has chosen the path of dictatorship. The United States stands with the people of Venezuela in the face of their continued oppression by the Maduro regime.”
In January, a State Department spokesperson issued a statement condemning the Maduro regime’s decision to hold snap elections, in order to consolidate its power.
“This vote would be neither free nor fair. It would only deepen, not help resolve, national tensions. It would not reflect the will of the Venezuelan people, and would be seen as undemocratic and illegitimate in the eyes of the international community. We call on the Maduro regime to respect the human rights of all of its citizens, and to return to democratic constitutional order,” spokesperson Heather Nauert said.
“The decision by the illegitimate Constituent Assembly to convene snap elections, even as negotiations between the opposition and the majority regime are under way, undermines those talks, undermines the ability for the Venezuelan people themselves to meaningfully participate in addressing the multiple crises that have been caused by the Maduro regime.”
— Simon Maloy (@SimonMaloy) March 20, 2018
As Media Matters senior writer Simon Maloy noted on Tuesday, there have been numerous other instances over the past year in which the Trump administration has attempted to dictate what other foreign governments should or should not do.
In addition to promising that Mexico would foot the bill for the construction of a wall on the U.S. southern border — a central plank of Trump’s presidential campaign — his administration tightened an economic embargo on Cuba in November, in an attempt to punish its communist government. The move restricted travel to the island and unraveled years of work by the Obama administration to thaw relations with Havana.
In February, the Trump administration cut foreign aid funding to Cambodia following the Cambodian government’s decision to dissolve the country’s main opposition party and hold rigged Senate elections in which the ruling party claimed it had won every single seat.
“Recent setbacks to democracy in Cambodia…[have] caused us deep concern, including Senate elections on February 25 that failed to represent the genuine will of the Cambodian people,” Sanders said in a statement that month. “These setbacks compelled the United States to review its assistance to Cambodia to ensure that American taxpayer funds are not being used to support anti-democratic behavior.”
Russia, by contrast, appears to have won a free pass, after rigging elections this weekend which were won by Vladimir Putin. Both mainstream politicians and non-governmental observers — including Edward Snowden, the former US government contractor who fled there after divulging US intelligence secrets — have condemned the country’s recent election, which was marred with voter fraud and ballot-stuffing.
“That Putin had to work so hard to drive voter turnout shows the Russian people know his claim to power is a sham,” Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) tweeted on Tuesday. “The US stands with all Russians yearning for freedom.”
Snowden, too, criticized the Russian government, linking to a video showing polling station employees stuffing ballot boxes. “The ballot stuffing seen today in Moscow and elsewhere in the Russian election is an effort to steal the influence of 140+ million people. Demand justice; demand laws and courts that matter. Take your future back,” he tweeted on Sunday.
My friends tell me it is dangerous to criticize the Russian government the same as I criticize my own. But each of us are given a limited number of days to make a difference. Life is a choice to live for something, or to die for nothing.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) March 18, 2018
In a separate tweet, he added, “My friends tell me it is dangerous to criticize the Russian government the same as I criticize my own. But each of us are given a limited number of days to make a difference. Life is a choice to live for something, or to die for nothing.”