On December 9th, 2016, anonymous employees of the Central Intelligence Agency leaked that the top spy agency had concluded that Russia involved itself in the American election for the purpose of electing Donald Trump to the White House. They alleged that Russia employed hackers to break into Democratic National Committee emails in an attempt to sway the election away from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by embarrassing her and her campaign. This should ring familiar, though. During the third presidential debate between Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump, Secretary Clinton herself argued on national television that, “the Russian government has engaged in espionage against Americans. They have hacked American websites, American accounts of private people, of institutions, then they have given that information to WikiLeaks for the purpose of putting it on the Internet.” She cited a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence naming Russian hackers as the chief culprit. Trump, quite memorably, responded to Clinton’s accusations by exclaiming he was “No puppet… no puppet. You’re the puppet!”
Why, then, does Donald Trump, President-elect of the United States, dispute these intelligence reports when the Intelligence Community seems to be quite certain of their accuracy? The Trump-Pence transition team released a three-sentence statement in response to the CIA allegations. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’” Aside from the lie in the first sentence and the lie in the second sentence, the Trump transition team is certainly entitled to its opinion on wanting to leave the past in the past and attempting to make America great again… whatever that means.
But something that the Trump camp fails to understand is that you can simultaneously accept the results of the election and demand answers to the questions posed by the CIA report. On Monday, December 12th, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called for a senatorial investigation into the CIA’s allegations of Russian hackers. Senator McConnell has no interest in reversing the results of the election in favor of Hillary Clinton. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) were among the sharpest critics of Secretary Clinton during the general election and are today among the group of bipartisan senators demanding such an investigation. They, too, would likely be mortified by the notion of the Electoral College rewarding Hillary Clinton with the presidency more than a month after news networks reported that she had lost to Donald Trump.
That these leading Republicans are outraged by the prospect of Russia’s possible interference in the American electoral experiment and yet are not demanding an absurd recount should provide cover to the Trump team. While Trump’s former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway is busy assaulting mainstream airwaves by terming the CIA report “laughable and ridiculous,” Donald Trump gave an interview to Fox News’ Chris Wallace where he said that, “I think [the CIA reports are] ridiculous. I think it’s just another excuse, I don’t believe it.”
Setting aside President-elect Trump’s apparent disregard for the value of American intelligence, he displays his own ignorance of the American democratic tradition. He, quite typically, tweeted his own incredulity at the CIA reports, signaling his belief that the media would be entirely hypocritical if Trump’s campaign “tried to play the Russia/CIA card.” Notwithstanding the fact that Donald Trump, for whatever reason, thinks that millions of illegal votes were cast in Virginia, California, and Vermont – coincidentally all states that Trump lost to Secretary Clinton – and thus would have definitely demanded a recount or otherwise contested the election results, Trump would have been squarely within his rights to call for accountability if reports surfaced of foreign countries attempting to interfere with our elections.
Donald Trump, as much as it physically pains this Democrat to write it, will be the President of the United States. No amount of petty or wasteful recounts directed by a two-term councilwoman who thinks that wi-fi might melt children’s brains will change that. Even the Russian hacks that are the subject of the CIA reports weren’t of voting machines. The CIA has ‘merely’ alleged that Russian hackers infiltrated the DNC, which, by itself, would not nearly warrant a coup in the Electoral College.
Trump’s team should be extremely disturbed by the CIA report. Imagine, for example, if the CIA reported that Mexico had hacked the RNC and leaked emails to Wikileaks (assuming that the Julian Assange-controlled website would have shared them) showing that Republican officials were trading emails referring to ‘lazy blacks’ and ‘illegal Hispanics.’ Trump’s team would likely not only scream bloody murder that Mexico was attempting to overrun our southern border, but it would also likely claim that the system was rigged against him and exclaim that Crooked Hillary’s campaign was colluding with Mexican intelligence agencies. That’s why politicians like Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) should be lauded when they refuse to comment on Wikileaks-sourced attacks for short-term partisan gain. He knows, as does anyone in politics, that things sound much worse in writing when taken out of context, and that trying to explain them is an uphill battle. He also knows that politics gets ugly and that next time, the Wikileaks attack could be against Republicans, so he’s better off not lending those attacks any credence this time.
Similarly, Trump’s team should be eager to swat down the rumors that Russia aided (and abetted) his presidential campaign. In 2016, one cannot do that by sending out a 140-character tweet. Trump’s team should unabashedly join the increasingly bipartisan calls for an investigative committee to look into how Russia (may or may not have) interfered with the 2016 election and prevent any such interference in the future. If Donald Trump wants to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, then he has to put his money where his hashtags are and stand up for American cybersecurity.