Collusion and Russian Interference With U.S. Elections Aren’t the Same, Jones Says

Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, speaks with a Rotary Club of Birmingham member Tuesday after speaking to the group. (Source: Robert Carter)

In front of an audience about which he said, “Probably most of you didn’t vote for me,” Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, warned that one of the biggest threats to America comes not from alleged collusion by Russian interests with the Trump campaign, but from interference in American elections by Russia.

Speaking Wednesday before the weekly meeting of the Rotary Club of Birmingham, Jones told members and guests that they should not be sidetracked by what he claims are Trump’s attempts to conflate the two issues, as the president rails against the continuing investigation into possible ties between his campaign and Russia.

“(It) seems that we can never shake Russia,” Jones said. “From the time of the Cold War until today, there always seems to be a problem with Russia. And Russian interference with our elections is a serious, serious, serious issue.”

Jones said that the main way the Russians influenced the 2016 election cycle was with social media, through numerous fake or automated accounts that aimed to get voters on both sides worked up, sometimes pitting them against each other.

Jones said the issue of interference is not getting enough attention because of Trump conflating it with the collusion allegations.

“Collusion is not the same thing as what everyone in the intelligence community now recognizes as one of the most serious threats we have ever faced,” he said. “Separate the issue of collusion … and focus on what is being said about Russian interference.”

The senator referenced comments a previous Birmingham Rotary speaker, Deputy Commandant Mark Conversino of the Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, made about the president of Russia. “Vladimir Putin sees a window of opportunity and he’s going to step through it — not because he’s a grand chess master, but only because we appear to be befuddled and confused in the West,” Jones quoted from comments Conversino made three years ago.

Special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation is no “witch hunt,” Jones said, using one of Trump’s favorite terms to criticize the investigation. “There are 32 people in three companies that have been indicted. Four of those people were Trump advisers, and five people have pled guilty.”

But Jones added that one indictment charges 12 Russian nationals and specifically addresses covert efforts involving social media.

“They see the weakness in our country through our weakness and our addiction to social media,” Jones said. “Newspapers and journalists (have fallen) by the wayside. Our investigative journalists who have for a long time, including right here in Jefferson County, kept all of our politicians honest, or kept corruption down or at least exposed it — all of that good journalism is going by the wayside. And we eare sitting and listening to echo chambers. We read on the internet what we want to read; we hear what we want to hear.”

Tariffs, Kavanaugh and a Two-Party State

Jones covered several issues in Wednesday’s speech, including comments about his continuing battle against tariffs proposed by Trump on imported vehicles and parts, as well as counter-tariffs on agricultural goods imposed by China in retaliation. Those tariffs are threatening thousands of jobs in Alabama, he said.

“We export $170 million in soybeans to China,” Jones said, “and we had $11 billion in auto exports in 2017.”

The proposed tariffs against vehicles and parts stem from a law that allows the president to impose tariffs if the goods to be taxed result in a threat to national security. The charge is under investigation by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, as required by the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. Jones has sponsored a bi-partisan bill in the Senate that would change the investigating agency from the Commerce Department to the Defense Department.

“I don’t think your BMW’s are a national threat,” Jones said.

Jones also had harsh words for his own Democratic Party, at least on the state level. When asked by a Rotarian if his victory over former state Chief Justice Roy Moore meant Alabama was turning into a two-party state, Jones replied “One election does not do that.”

“I’ve said before that it’s time for a change in Alabama party leadership. They’re still stuck in the 1970s,” he said.

As he has in recent press conferences, Jones declined to say whether he would vote to appoint Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I’m doing a deep dive into his record. There’s a lot of material to go through,” Jones told the crowd.

“I don’t want to get into what I’ve read and what I’ve made note of yet. The hearing has not even been set, and I want to wait and see what comes out of the hearing,” he told reporters after his speech.