Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday. He was asked by host John Dickerson to respond to reports of possible meddling by Russia on social media seeking the ouster of President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Dickerson said that The New York Times had found 600 Twitter accounts linked to Russia that bore the hashtag #fireMcMaster, which became the number one item on Friday.
“What do you make of all of that? And does it look like what you have been investigating during the election? ” asked Dickerson. Cotton, a military veteran as is McMaster, defended Trump’s adviser. While Cotton said he would not comment on the NYT report, he said that Russia has a “long history of using disinformation, deception, subterfuge, and espionage to influence Western democracies.” He said that Russian intelligence services hacked into emails and released them during the 2016 election, and were also behind the 1983 protests against the deployment of intermediate-range nuclear missiles by the US in Western Europe.
Cotton said that Russia seeks to manipulate democracies and “sow discord and disagreements” between the US and NATO allies. “And it's something the United States obviously must be on guard against.”
When Dickerson pushed Cotton on the narrative about possible Russian efforts to embarrass McMaster and push him out, the Arkansas again demurred. He said that no American should be surprised that Russia uses “subterfuge, deception, and manipulation to try to divide political opinion within the United States, within any Western European country, or among NATO countries.” When Dickerson noted that Cotton has signed legislation to impose further sanctions on Russia and asked whether the Trump administration should do more, Cotton answered, “Well, Russia remains an adversary of the United States.”
On Friday, President Trump issued a statement to CBS News, saying "General McMaster and I are working very well together. He is a good man and very pro-Israel. I am grateful for the work he continues to do serving our country." His statement came after the Administration was criticized because of McMaster's decision to fire members of the national security team who had been brought on by McMaster's predecessor, Michael Flynn. Among those ousted was Ezra Cohen-Watnick, 31, who was senior director for intelligence programs at the National Security Council.
Cotton said, however, that the US and Russia have some overlapping interests. He said that relations between the two countries are poor because of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Pointing the finger at the previous occupant of the White House, Cotton said, “There are steps that I think that we should be taking that we should have taken under the Obama administration, for instance, providing defensive weaponry to Ukraine. I encourage the president and the administration to take a look at those steps. I know they are doing so through deliberate, careful National Security Council meetings.”
Cotton said he hopes that a decision will be made to arm Ukraine and to strengthen NATO defenses in light of recent Russian military manoeuvres. “I have supported the efforts to send more of our troops to Eastern Europe to try to increase the permanent presence there to make it clear to Russia that we will stand by all of our NATO allies and they can't take steps that will intimidate or interfere with NATO's member countries.”
Cotton appeared to agree with President Trump that the war in Afghanistan is not going well. When Dickerson asked him, “Do you agree with the president, who reportedly has said he believes that the U.S. is losing in Afghanistan?” Cotton answered: “We aren't making enough progress. And in military terms, if you're not winning, sometimes, you are losing.”