At a recent listening session held by U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, a constituent expressed concern about Russia meddling with U.S. elections.

In his response, Kind acknowledged the importance of dealing with the threat to such a fundamental part of our democracy.

I decided to follow up on that exchange after reading over the weekend that the State Department has yet to spend any of the $120 million it has been allocated since late 2016 to counter foreign efforts to meddle in elections or sow distrust in democracy, according to a New York Times report.

All of the nation’s intelligence leaders testified in Congress last week that Russia is already meddling in the midterm elections this year. They warned that Moscow is using a digital strategy to worsen the country’s political and social divisions.

“We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokespeople and other means of influence to try to exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States,” Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee at its annual hearing on worldwide threats.

Yet President Trump has not applied the sanctions against Russia authorized in a near unanimous vote by Congress in response the election meddling last year. The Trump Administration said the sanctions were not needed because the legislation was already having a deterrent effect.

It’s clear from the testimony of the intelligence chiefs that the Russians are not deterred in their effort to harm our democracy.

Kind wrote weeks ago to Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), requesting information from the department “immediately” regarding whether Wisconsin’s voting system was breached by the Russians in the 2016 election.

Kind noted that earlier this year the department had confirmed that Russia successfully targeted the voting systems of 21 states, including Wisconsin, and, more recently, that a number of the states targeted were successfully breached. But, he added, the department has not revealed what states were penetrated or the extent of the interference. Kind said the Wisconsin Elections Commission has refuted claims that Russian hackers breached Wisconsin elections systems, and said the DHS never notified the state about a potential breach.

As of last weekend Nielsen had not responded to Kind’s letter.

The intelligence officials said that the president has yet to discuss strategies with them to prevent the Russians from interfering in the midterm elections this year.

As to the State Department, according to the Times, “not one of the 23 analysts working in the department’s Global Engagement Center — which has been tasked with countering Moscow’s disinformation campaign — speaks Russian, and a department hiring freeze has hindered efforts to recruit the computer experts needed to track the Russian efforts.”

Lt. Gen. Paul M. Nakasone testified last week before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to be director of the National Security Agency, chief of the Central Security Service and commander of United States Cyber Command. He told the senators that U.S. adversaries “don’t think much will happen” in response to their cyber attacks. According to a Reuters report, Nakasone’s hearing came two days after his retiring predecessor, Admiral Mike Rogers, told senators that Trump had not granted him the authority to disrupt Russian election-hacking operations.

So Kind was absolutely right in asserting in his letter to the Homeland Security secretary, “It is long past due for our Commander in Chief to order our agencies to take all appropriate steps to counter Russia’s, or any other country’s, attempt to interfere with our elections, and communicate past and current threats to any vulnerable states. So far, President Trump has refused to do so.”

Kind might have added that President Trump pledged in his oath of office: “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Senators and representatives as well as the members of the military take a slightly more expansive oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic...”

We lose our Constitutional right to elect our representatives if the system is corrupted. It’s time for all our elected officials to defend the Constitution, especially when the threat is both foreign and domestic.

Dave Skoloda is a former part-owner and editor of the Onalaska Community Life and Holmen Courier.

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Coulee Courier and Houston County News editor

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