Trump still undermining U.S. intelligence
Last Friday, the American intelligence community released a 25-page report entitled “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections.” The report made it clear that Vladimir Putin ordered the hacking and use of the hacked materials to influence and interfere with our elections. The intent was to damage Hillary Clinton and undermine her potential administration, and then shifted to the support of Donald Trump. The Russians also used their RT television network and flooded social media with fake news stories to harm Secretary Clinton’s chances. The report does not assess the impact of the Russian campaign.
President-Elect Trump was briefed on the report including classified material detailing why spy agencies have high confidence this happened. In Trump’s statement following his briefing he said that, “…there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election…” and later tweeted, “Intelligence stated very strongly there was absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results.” His surrogates like Kellyanne Conway regurgitated the same talking point on NBC’s Meet the Press.
But that’s bullshit. It’s spin.
If you didn’t have the WikiLeaks reports, we wouldn’t have had information on the DNC’s efforts to tilt the primary towards Hillary Clinton and against Bernie Sanders. The public would not have had the information in Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street. Clinton’s quote about “open borders” would not have been introduced into the campaign (even though in context she was talking about open borders in terms of energy trading.) Remember that John Podesta’s emails were leaked on October 7 right after the Access Hollywood tape broke and on the same day American intelligence released a statement about Russian hacking.
In addition, the Russians introduced fake news stories about Clinton’s health that found a home in right wing media and was shared, retweeted and posted countless times. Voters were told Clinton had Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, and even that she was dying.
ThinkProgress conducted an analysis of Trump’s transcripts in the final 30 days of the election and found that he mentioned WikiLeaks 164 times. Is it credible that he thought mentioning these stories would have no impact on voters? Why mention these stories if they’d make absolutely no difference?
But even among some Democrats we hear the refrain, “Hillary Clinton didn’t lose because of the Russians.” It sounds good, but how do they know?
There’s no question that Clinton was a poor candidate in that she articulated no vision, no positive agenda and indeed little rationale for her candidacy besides the fact that Donald Trump was horrible. She didn’t run on her accomplishments as Secretary of State or explain to voters how her presidency would differ from Barack Obama’s. She offered no specific outreach to the frustrated middle class whites that supported Trump nor gave African-Americans a reason to be passionate about her candidacy. She ran like someone trying to run out the clock.
Likewise, her strategy of expecting blue states to hold without campaigning in them was folly. Her handling of her email server problem as well as her nakedly political decision to oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership hurt her credibility.
And Donald Trump has to be given credit for more vigorous campaigning, his cunning use of Twitter and despite his many scandals and disruptions, managing to consistently push an easy to remember message of making America great again by opposing bad trade deals, building a wall and protecting Americans from terror.
But in the swing states that gave Trump the presidency, the margin was thin. In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, Trump beat Clinton by less than 1 percent of the vote. He won by 23,000 votes out of 3 million cast in Wisconsin and won by 10,704 votes out of more than 4.5 million cast in Michigan. To say the Russian influence campaign couldn’t account for that margin is crazy.
It may be instructive to compare the election to a football game. If the Chicago Bears are losing to the New York Giants by 2 points with five seconds left in the game and the Bears line up for a game winning field goal but the kick misses, it’s easy to say the kicker lost them the game. In reality, interceptions and fumbles, missed tackles, dropped passes, bad calls and penalties all contribute to why the Bears ended up in that position in the first place. So while it’s easy to see the kicker missing the last second field goal as the cause of the loss, many factors contribute to it. I think that’s the reasonable way to look at the Russian hacking and dissemination. There’s no question these efforts had to affect some voters, but we can’t say if it was determinative. Surely it was part of the reason.
But Trump coming out after his briefing and saying that “Intelligence stated very strongly there was absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results” is bullshit. And it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous because the report intelligence officials released does not say this and neither have intelligence officials said this in public hearings.
The report says, “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.” And in Senate hearings, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said, “…certainly the intelligence community can’t gauge the impact it had on the choices the electorate made. There’s no way for us to gauge that.”
It’s understandable that Donald Trump doesn’t want his election to be seen as tainted or unearned. But to misrepresent intelligence information to spin things his way doesn’t bode well for the future. It’s a disturbing warning that the new president will bend intelligence facts to shape public opinion much in the same way he criticized President George W. Bush doing on Iraq WMD intelligence.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Trump do this. After he received his first briefing earlier during the campaign, he said the intelligence officials who briefed him were not happy with the Obama Administration. It forced CIA Director John Brennan to actually push back against Trump’s stance.
It is Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump who have undermined confidence in Donald Trump’s election. Setting aside whether the Russian interference succeeded in helping Trump or not, the President-Elect and all Americans should be furious that a foreign government has sown doubt in the American electoral process. Instead, he defends Putin and Russia at every turn. Even after being briefed, he cannot mention Russian hacking without mentioning China in the same sentence when there’s no evidence or claim that China hacked our political institutions and used information to undermine our process this past November.
Why is Donald Trump’s position, after being hosed by the Kremlin, to turn around and bend over for more? Why is he insisting on rewarding Vladimir Putin with better relations after Putin sought to undermine our electoral process? It’s weakness to reward this behavior. It’s the reason why the NSA monitored Russian officials celebrating Trump’s victory. They know they have a puppet in the White House.
To help protect us in the future, we need to retaliate against the Russians and fully investigate what happened. Even Republican Senator Lindsay Graham acknowledged on Meet the Press that Congress should investigate whether there was any collusion between political campaigns and the Russians. That is an angle that needs to be vigorously investigated.
Donald Trump is free to make the argument that Vladimir Putin’s meddling played absolutely no role in his election. But when he falsely attributes that position to intelligence, he’s further undermining our intelligence community. Putin’s puppet continues to pay dividends to the Kremlin.