On Saturday, the nation seemed poised on the edge of a genuine constitutional crisis, with information leaking out that not only did Russia deliberately interfere with the election, they did so with the explicit purpose of supporting Donald Trump. President Obama has ordered a full investigation; a call that is now being echoed by Democrats in Congress.
The CIA's findings that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency are both “stunning and not surprising,” the next leader of Senate Democrats said, raising the need for Congress to conduct a full investigation.
That Russia was acting not simply to drive up doubt in the effectiveness of democracy, but explicitly to help Trump, seemed probable from the outset. After all, hackers working as an arm of the Russian government broke into the DNC, stole emails, and leaked selective portions to the public using wikileaks as an instrument of distribution. The leaks were timed expressly to damage Democratic enthusiasm and drive a wedge into the party. No equivalent event ever happened on the right. In fact, the Russians supported both further hacking and a small army of agents generating fake news stories, all of which supported Trump.
Even with that background, the bluntness of the latest evaluation by the intelligence community is striking.
The CIA shared its latest assessment with key senators in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week, in which agency officials cited a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources. Agency briefers told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
Now Republicans need to decide if they want to please Trump, or protect the nation. And few of them are finding that America is first on their list of concerns.
Chuck Schumer has joined the chorus of Democrats calling for full congressional investigation.
“That any country could be meddling in our elections should shake both political parties to their core,” Schumer stated. “Senate Democrats will join with our Republican colleagues next year to demand a congressional investigation and hearings to get to the bottom of this.”
However, Republicans are worried that admitting the incoming president was put on that track by Putin will put them on the wrong side of his steaming Twitter account.
For Republicans, giving credence to the CIA assessment probably would cause them to anger Trump even before the president-elect has been inaugurated.
Even John McCain has leaped on the doubter wagon, falling back on the old reliable …
John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he could not be certain of the CIA’s claims given its track record, echoing Trump’s reaction to the report in which he said: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”
Republicans are doing a lot of echoing Trump out of their fear of being on the outs once the new boss is in, even though they’re perfectly aware that it isn’t just the CIA who is waiving this flag. The Russian connection is the conclusion of 17 different agencies, as well as a slew of civilian cyber security experts who have looked at the information.
Why do none of Republicans want to admit to Russia’s obvious meddling? More than just bring on the wrong end of orange ire, admitting involvement leads to the next step: Admitting that without Putin in his corner, Trump probably would have lost.
By acknowledging and digging into the increasing evidence that Russia helped — or at least attempted to help — tip the scales in Trump’s favor, they risk raising questions about whether Trump would have won without Russian intervention.
Trump, after all, won by a margin of about 80,000 votes cast across three states, winning each of the decisive states by less than one percentage point. So even a slight influence could have plausibly made the difference, though we'll never be able to prove it one way or another.
That’s leading to the three main branches of Republican ducking and hiding: the CIA has been wrong before, the Russians are always trying this stuff so it’s no big deal, and “I haven’t seen the report.”
If Republicans are afraid to engage, the CIA is not. After all, Trump has already mocked them during the campaign, skipped out on his briefings, and pointedly sneered at the accuracy of US intelligence—an act that, all by itself, has to be hugely heartwarming for the nation’s enemies. But the CIA may be the only one with the guts to stand up to Trump, and damn the consequences.
“Given his proclivity for revenge combined with his notorious thin skin, this threatens to result in a lasting relationship of distrust and ill-will between the president and the intelligence community,” said Paul Pillar, former deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center.
The choice for everyone else is simple. They can admit the truth, join in the investigation, and value their nation about their relationship with the incoming president
… who has said flatly that he doesn’t believe Russia interfered with the election, despite receiving intelligence briefings to the contrary. And he's proved more than willing to go after fellow Republicans who run afoul of him.
Or they can bow down to Trump, close their eyes, and pretend nothing is wrong, even though...
… if Republicans play down the issue, they risk giving a pass to an antagonistic foreign power that significant majorities of Americans and members of Congress do not trust and which, if the evidence is accurate, wields significant power to wage successful cyberwarfare with the United States.
Are Republicans so scared of Trump that they’ll not merely hand the nation over to Putin, they’ll assist Trump in the “Russians? I don’t see any Russians.” discrediting of the intelligence agencies?
So far, the answer is yes.