Analysis: This is getting ridiculous.
The Washington Post published a story on Dec. 9 that the Central Intelligence Agency has concluded in a classified briefing to the Senate, which was leaked, that Russia somehow rigged — or was it influenced? — the election so President-elect Donald Trump would win.
The article quoted a senior U.S. official saying, “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… That’s the consensus view.”
The claim comes without a shred of evidence being presented to the American people. And so, naturally, that means — to Trump’s detractors — that the Electoral College should be overturned and the election awarded in favor of Hillary Clinton, the loser. Clinton’s campaign now wants electors to the Electoral College to receive the same classified briefing the Senate got, Politico reports, all in a blatant effort to persuade Republican electors to change their states’ votes that Trump won in the election.
Nowhere is anyone saying that the integrity of election ballots was ever in question. Michigan, which Trump won, for example has an all-paper ballot system. You can’t hack paper.
Even electronic ballots in states that use them are not connected to the Internet, something the Department of Homeland Security officials took pains to remind the American people on Oct. 7 in a statement: “The [United States Intelligence Community] and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assess that it would be extremely difficult for someone, including a nation-state actor, to alter actual ballot counts or election results by cyber attack or intrusion. This assessment is based on the decentralized nature of our election system in this country and the number of protections state and local election officials have in place. States ensure that voting machines are not connected to the Internet, and there are numerous checks and balances as well as extensive oversight at multiple levels built into our election process.”
To get at the ballots, then, would have required agents at elementary school and other voting precincts in key states. No such allegation exists. Nobody is saying the ballots were compromised because there is no evidence they were compromised. When Jill Stein tried to get this nonsense into federal court, for example in Pennsylvania, where Trump won by 44,000 votes, it was laughed out of court, with U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond writing, “Most importantly, there is no credible evidence that any ‘hack’ occurred, and compelling evidence that Pennsylvania’s voting system was not in any way compromised.” Stein’s original petition, Diamond noted, “did not include any allegation that hacking had actually occurred.”
In other words, Russia did not rig the election, because it couldn’t. The states control the ballots, not Moscow. So, Trump won the election fair and square, by securing a majority of the Electoral College’s 538 electoral votes.
In the meantime, there is lots of evidence emerging that the original Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails that were published on Wikileaks did not even originate from Russia.
Former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray, an associate of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, who published the emails, said quite directly that those emails were a leak from inside the Democratic Party, not a hack, telling the Guardian: “I know who leaked them. I’ve met the person who leaked them, and they are certainly not Russian and it’s an insider. It’s a leak, not a hack; the two are different things.”
It is unclear if Murray was also referring to emails to and from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta that were also published by Wikileaks. But even if the Podesta emails were not included, the first Washington Post story on the DNC hack on June 14 citing U.S. officials originally said the DNC emails was Russia all along, “Russian government hackers penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee and gained access to the entire database of opposition research on GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, according to committee officials and security experts who responded to the breach.”
So, Murray’s account of a Democratic Party insider being the source of the DNC emails to Wikileaks, citing first-hand information, and the Washington Post’s account that Russian hackers being responsible, per U.S. government sources, are clearly at odds.
But leaving all of that aside, even if Russia was the source of all the emails all along, there simply is no accusation that Russia or Wikileaks coordinated its releases of either the DNC or Podesta emails with the Trump campaign. Something not lost on the small number of electors to the Electoral College who are demanding what can only be called a witch hunt, in an open letter to National Intelligence Director James Clapper: “The Electors require to know from the intelligence community whether there are ongoing investigations into ties between Donald Trump, his campaign or associates, and Russian government interference in the election. We further require a briefing on all investigative findings, as these matters directly impact the core factors in our deliberations of whether Mr. Trump is fit to serve as President of the United States.”
This is paranoia writ large.
The electors demanding access to U.S. intelligence, again, present no evidence Trump actually coordinated with Russian agents to “interfere” with the election but, no matter, they want a full investigation. Well, how’s this: If there is real evidence of espionage by Trump, why hasn’t the FBI gotten a warrant? Instead, the FBI in a meeting with the House Intelligence Committee appeared to throw cold water on the controversial conclusion of the CIA assessment that Russia preferred Trump to Clinton, let alone that it somehow coordinated with Trump.
In the meantime, the accusation that Russia was behind the hacks to help Trump has been a consistent Clinton campaign talking point since the summer, beginning with Wikileaks on July 22 revealing DNC emails proving that the party was favoring Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the presidential primary on the eve of the party’s convention in Philadelphia. Almost instantly, Obama administration officials were unsurprisingly pointing the finger at the Kremlin. Unsurprisingly, because the Russian origins of the emails had already been attributed in the Washington Post’s June 14 report.
Trump, responding to the leaked DNC emails story and the Russian connection, joked about the breach at a press event, implicating Clinton’s other email scandal, saying, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you’ll be rewarded mightily by our press.”
But that was not news, either. The Associated Press had reported in Sept. 2015 that Hillary Clinton’s private email server — the one she denied contained classified information but really did — might have been penetrated by the Russians.
And by May 2016, it was reported by the popular political blog Gateway Pundit that Moscow had actually succeeded in penetrating Clinton’s emails and was carefully considering whether to leak the trove of documents, said to total 20,000. Allegedly, the Russians had piggybacked onto Clinton’s server by monitoring the renowned hacker known as Guccifer 2.0.
A month prior to that, the Panama Papers had been revealed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that proved embarrassing to the Russian government after linking Russian President Vladimir Putin to offshore accounts. Putin laid the blame for the Panama Papers leak squarely at the feet of the U.S., saying at a press conference in April, “They are trying to destabilize us from within in order to make us more compliant.”
Did the U.S.-backed Panama Papers revelations provoke a Russian-backed threat to expose Clinton’s private server emails and then the DNC email release via Wikileaks? Who knows, but that all seems to have had less to do with electing Donald Trump and could indicate the email disclosures were actually blowback against similar, alleged Obama administration disclosures against Putin.
Not that Hillary Clinton cared. Within 9 days of the Wikileaks hack, she appeared on Fox News Sunday linking the email disclosures to Trump, saying, “We know that Russian intelligence services hacked into the DNC, and we know that they arranged for a lot of those emails to be released, and we know that Donald Trump has shown a very troubling willingness to back up Putin, to support Putin.” Here, Clinton implicated her opponent, Trump, of engaging in espionage, admittedly via innuendo.
Surrogates made more direct charges. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright doubled down at the convention in July, saying, “The truth is that a Trump victory in November would be a gift to Vladimir Putin — and given what we have learned about Russia’s recent actions, Putin is eager for Trump to win. And that should worry every American.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid in an Aug. 29 letter to FBI Director James Comey, urged an immediate investigation into Trump, stating, “The evidence of a direct connection between the Russian government and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign continues to mount and has led Michael Morrell, the forming Acting Central Intelligence Director, to call Trump an ‘unwitting agent’ of Russia and the Kremlin.”
“The American people deserve to have a full understanding of the facts from a completed investigation before they vote this November,” Reid added.
Again, nowhere in any of these allegations was any actual evidence of Trump coordinating with Russia ever presented.
Yet you could not have paid attention to the campaign and the DNC and Podesta email saga and not been privy to the unproven allegation that Russia and Trump were behind it all.
In the meantime, the deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations — which Trump campaigned against — did not occur in a vacuum. Even if Russia did prefer Trump, who the heck could blame them? U.S. policy has been absolute bananas.
Just look at Ukraine and Syria. Specifically, the U.S.-backed overthrow of Russian-backed Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine in 2014 — where Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was apparently caught on tape helping to organize the coup — and the attempted overthrow of Bashar al Assad in Syria in 2013, another Russian satellite. These failed U.S. interventions destabilized both regions, risking a wider war between the U.S. and Russia.
If the disclosure of the emails affected how voters decided between Trump and Clinton on Nov. 8, then so did the DNC and the Clinton’s paranoid delusions accusing anyone touting the emails as Russian collaborators — all without a shred of evidence presented publicly.
Now those same news sites including Wikileaks that reported on the emails are accused again of being mouthpieces of the Kremlin — “fake” news — by none other than the Washington Post and some group calling itself Propornot.com, all without any evidence.
Later the Washington Post published a partial retraction of the story, stating, “The Post, which did not name any of the sites, does not itself vouch for the validity of Propornot’s findings regarding any individual media outlet, nor did the article purport to do so.” Here, the Washington Post was admitting it had no evidence the websites labeled by Propornot.com were in fact witting or unwitting Russian collaborators.
So, what the heck is going on here? Given that this has now risen to the level of the CIA briefing the Senate — which was leaked instantly — that in turn has prompted predictable calls for overturning the election via the Electoral College, and all of these assessments proclaiming Russia and Trump coordinating in the election have all to date originated from partisan political sources that hate Trump — i.e. the Clinton campaign, the anti-Trump mainstream media, the intelligence community that Trump has repeatedly criticized and #NeverTrumpers like Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — perhaps we simply should deduce that this is all a political stunt to try to overturn the clear outcome of an American presidential election for the first time in history.
If so, then perhaps this is about the Obama national security and intelligence apparatus, or just jealous senators, attempting to kneecap the incoming Trump administration to cement in place Obama legacy policies to overthrow Russia-backed factions in Syria and Ukraine — all to undermine Trump’s stated policy objective to repair relations with Moscow. Look at what Trump said on the campaign trail: “What we should do is focus on ISIS. We should not be focusing on Syria,” Trump told Reuters in October.
“You’re going to end up in World War III over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton,” Trump said, referring to Clinton’s proposed no-fly zone over Syria where Russian war planes are currently patrolling, adding, “She is incompetent.”
Let’s be fair. What if Trump’s intentions really were to simply avoid a catastrophic war with Russia over Syria or Ukraine, as he stated on the campaign trail?
In that political context, then, that is exactly what the American people just voted to do — avoid war — by electing Trump, taking into account the reckless Obama administration and Clinton policies in Syria and Ukraine, taking into consideration the emails and finally considering the accusation that Trump and Russia were somehow involved with the email disclosures.
The American people took it all into account, and still elected Trump by a decisive Electoral College majority with 306 electors for Trump to Clinton’s 232. What of the states that voted for Trump, like Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that were critical to Trump’s win? Are they all Russian collaborators, too?
Again, this is getting ridiculous.
Trump may be preparing to clean house in the intelligence community when he takes office after the Washington Post published the CIA allegations, saying in an interview with Fox News Sunday: “Of course, we’re going to make changes, you know, at the top. We’re going to have different people coming in because we have our people, they have their people.” Which, think about it from Trump’s perspective.
If the nation’s intelligence apparatus has just labeled the President-elect a Russian agent at worst, and has been carrying on a tireless campaign for months to air that implication in media outlets, all in an attempt to influence the election, in coordination with his political opponents, Hillary Clinton and the mainstream media — and Trump knows it’s not true — why should Trump trust them? Maybe those responsible should be fired, assuming they all were not political appointees to begin with.
If Russia crossed the threshold and interfered with U.S. elections, then so has the nation’s intelligence community and members of Congress, who have gone out of their way on this silly issue to insinuate that Trump was somehow involved with the DNC and Podesta email disclosures, again, without any evidence.
To be fair, Trump is not saying the CIA intended its assessment to become public, telling Fox News’ Chris Wallace, “I’m not sure they put it out. I think the Democrats are putting it out because they suffered one of the greatest defeats in the history of politics in this country. And, frankly, I think they’re putting it out. It’s ridiculous.”
Either way, this is vintage “enemy of the state” paranoia fueled by partisanship that has no place in a public policy venue, let alone our nation’s intelligence community or the U.S. Senate. The fact that this briefing was timed to influence not voters prior to Nov. 8, but the Electoral College’s meeting on Dec. 19, is telling.
It makes this look like the beginnings of an attempted coup. There are no foreign agents who have penetrated our political institutions or somehow wrested power in any manner, but very high institutions are behaving that way even though no evidence has been presented publicly that that is the case at all.
As Trump noted in a tweet yesterday, “Can you imagine if the election results were the opposite and WE tried to play the Russia/CIA card. It would be called conspiracy theory!”
It sure would. Because it’s nuts. And to think these people, that is, the Clintons, almost won the election. Who really attempted to influence the election? How about the nation’s intelligence brass who thought it was a good idea to broadcast to the Senate on the eve of the Electoral College’s Dec. 19 meeting, or the senators who apparently leaked it to the Washington Post, the insinuation — again — that Donald Trump, the President-elect, is actually a Russian agent who the Kremlin has installed, a puppet. Whoever originated this nonsense and then peddled it should all be fired. To call this intelligence is an insult thereto.
This is a witch hunt. The election was not hacked. There is no evidence it ever was. The American people elected Donald Trump on Nov. 8. That’s all we know for certain. And in the end, that’s all that matters.
About the author: Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.