The staid, “grown-up” position, epitomized in this New York Times story a week before the election, was that Russia, even if it was actually involved in hacking Democratic political email accounts or interfering with state election websites, just wanted to throw a bit of chaos into the election and undermine trust in American democracy.
Yet explosive new reporting from the Washington Post tells us that the CIA informed U.S. senators last week that it was “quite clear” from a “growing body of intelligence from multiple sources” that Russia’s goal was to elect Trump.
The “consensus view,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators, according to the Post, is that “it is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected.”
The New York Times also reported Friday evening that intelligence agencies have “high confidence” that Russian cyberattacks had the goal of helping Trump because the Republican National Committee was hacked. The data and email traffic was not released. The hacked emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and sent to WikiLeaks gained international headlines for weeks, causing headaches for the Clinton campaign and the resignation of the DNC chair after internal party squabbles became public.
Trump said this week, as he has said for months, that the intelligence community’s findings were politicized and that he doubts Russia was behind the hacks. Hearing Trump’s denial, retired general Michael Hayden, who ran the CIA for much of George W. Bush’s second term, said:
“To have the president-elect of the United States simply reject the fact-based narrative that the intelligence community puts together because it conflicts with his a priori assumptions. Wow. The data matters. He continues to reject the Russians did it… and claims that it was politicized intelligence.”
This was not a one-time-denial. Trump’s official presidential transition team statement responding to this report undermined the CIA and essentially told the world to move on:
If President-elect Trump does start going to more intel briefings, things could get awkward. Transition's statement on the CIA assessment pic.twitter.com/EvqZgYR40t
— Mark Berman (@markberman) December 10, 2016
“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” the statement reads. “The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to ‘Make America Great Again.’”
It is unclear where Trump and his national security advisers will be looking for intelligence they deem adequate.
It is easy to forget that the FBI launched a preliminary investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, for his ties to Russian and Ukrainian oligarch. A former spy said he found evidence for Russian support for Trump going back five years, and that Trump apparently set up a very unusual server to communicate with a powerful Russian bank during the campaign.
The impact of the hacked emails, stolen from staff at the Democratic National Committee as well as Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, paled only in comparison to the candidate’s IT practices while Secretary of State.
A million things led to this election outcome. This was an important one. pic.twitter.com/r81Pufhvpj
— James Fallows (@JamesFallows) December 10, 2016
The idea that Russia actively put its thumb on the scale in Trump’s favor in a very close election where he prevailed in the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote by almost three million votes alarms more than Democrats.
Trump has shocked people across the political spectrum with his laudatory praise for Russia and Vladimir Putin and his desire to diminish NATO. One of his first staffing choices was former general Michael Flynn for National Security Advisor, who equated a Russian propaganda media outlet to CNN. For secretary of state, he is considering congressional Putin advocate Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and someone who may be closer to Vladimir Putin than anyone in America: ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.
“[Tillerson] has had more interactive time with Vladimir Putin than probably any other American with the exception of Henry Kissinger,” security expert John Hamre told the Wall Street Journal this week.
On Friday morning, White House Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco said that President Obama had initiated a “full review” of whether Russian hackers had tampered with the American election process in 2016. The review would not be completed until at least Obama’s final day in office, and it is unlikely that even the “lessons learned” takeaways from the review would be made public. Monaco said that it would be up to the intelligence community to decide who gets to see the results.
Leading Senate Republicans are preparing their own investigations into Russia’s cyberattacks in the 115th Congress.
“I am going to lead the charge to investigate Russia’s role, not only in the elections but throughout the world,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told CNN this week. “So I’m going after Russia in every way you can go after Russia. I think they’re one of the most destabilizing influences on the world stage. I think they did interfere with our elections, and I want Putin personally to pay the price,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said of Russia.
“I think Trump should take a real tough tone with Russia because if he doesn’t, you’re going to allow Russia to being to break apart alliances [such as] the European Union.”
Don’t expect to see much coverage of this explosive new report on cable news, however.
— igorvolsky (@igorvolsky) December 10, 2016