Tester in, Daines out for Missoula town hall on Russian interference

Citing political division and the need for democratic dialogue, a Montana nonprofit and the Montana World Affairs Council last month invited the state’s two senators to engage in a town-hall meeting this week focused on national security and other issues.

Sen. Jon Tester accepted the invitation, though Sen. Steve Daines did not respond, according to the organizations. Congress is currently in recess.

Robert Seidenschwarz, president emeritus of the Montana World Affairs Council, said the event will explore Russian interference in the last U.S. election, along with dark money and Citizens United.

All three issues have been hotly debated.

“In this time of intense political division, the opportunity for citizens to meet with their elected officials, hear insight and legal opinion from a panel of experts, and voice one’s opinion in a thoughtful and respectful manner, is a hallmark of representative democracy,” Seidenschwarz said this week.

Tester, who accepted the invitation to appear at the Missoula town hall, called on the Senate Homeland Security Committee to launch a full investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election in February.

In a letter to committee chairman Ron Johnson, Tester outlined the need for an investigation into Russian President Vladimir Putin, and laid out evidence of the Russian government’s actions to interfere with the election.

The Montana senator was joined by six other committee members in pushing for the investigation.

“It has been firmly established that Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government unleashed a pervasive influence campaign in the United States designed to sway our recent election.” Tester said. “Only a thorough, transparent investigation will allow the American people to learn exactly what transpired during the 2016 presidential campaign and what changes, if any, are necessary to safeguard our nation’s critical infrastructure from further hacking.”

Daines has remained silent on the issue, though in February he told callers on a tele-town hall that the government has “got to investigate.” Daines has been widely criticized recently for not appearing in person before Montana voters.

Montanans for National Security member Andrew Person said Daines did not respond when asked to participate in the Missoula event.

“The purpose of the meeting was for the senators to share their own (unclassified) assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 election and exchange ideas with constituents on what Congress should do in response, and how to prevent such interference in the future,” Person said on Wednesday. “Sen. Tester has accepted the invitation, but we have not received a response from Sen. Daines.”

Daines could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Montanans for National Security is registered as a nonprofit and includes former national security professionals, former Defense Intelligence Agency officers and former diplomats from the U.S. Department of State.

The event is scheduled for Friday, July 7 at 9 a.m. in the University Center on the University of Montana Campus.