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On Friday, the Washington Post reported that “the CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency,” and shared these findings in a closed-door briefing with senators earlier in the week. This isn’t necessarily surprising; Trump has praised Putin throughout his campaign, and literally told Russia that they should look into the Clinton campaign’s emails in his last public press conference. Back in August, Ivanka went on vacation with Wendi Deng, generally understood by many to be Vladimir Putin’s girlfriend at the time (although not confirmed by the state). CNN reported in October that there was “growing evidence” that Russia was working with Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange; also in October, retired lieutenant general Jim Clapper made a statement “declaring that the US government and intelligence had concluded that senior levels of the Russian government had directed the hacking of Democratic political groups in the US and release of information from them with the intent of influencing the US election.”
To be clear, it doesn’t seem that the CIA report is suggesting direct election rigging by hacking voting machines; rather, it focuses on how both the DNC and RNC were hacked, but only information about the Democratic campaign was leaked to the public, implying a desire to smear one party and not the other, impacting the outcome of the election. Despite the apparent clarity of the CIA’s position on this, the FBI seemed to equivocate in the same closed-door meeting; the Washington Post’s source saying that “The FBI official’s remarks to the lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee were, in comparison, “fuzzy” and “ambiguous,” suggesting to those in the room that the bureau and the agency weren’t on the same page.” Harry Reid, for one (whose status as an outgoing Senate minority leader means there’s little motivation to protect his own career) says he thinks it’s because the FBI is, essentially, compromised. He told MSNBC:
“The FBI had this material for a long time but Comey, who is of course a Republican, refused to divulge specific information about Russia and the presidential election… I am so disappointed in Comey. He has let the country down for partisan purposes and that’s why I call him the new J Edgar Hoover, because I believe that… I think he should be investigated by the Senate. He should be investigated by other agencies of the government including the security agencies because if ever there was a matter of security it’s this… I don’t think any of us understood how partisan Comey was.”
In response to this development, a group of senators including Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham, called on Sunday for an investigation into the issue of Russian involvement with the election. Mitch McConnell has shut down the idea of a dedicated committee; he and Paul Ryan both say that the House Intelligence Committee can handle investigating it as an instance of cyberhacking. The House, of course, is Republican-controlled, whereas a committee could be made bipartisan.
The findings of the group that ends up investigating the Russian involvement are, of course, on a tight time schedule; in 37 days Trump is scheduled to be inaugurated, and as he and his camp have declared that the CIA report is “just another excuse,” and implying that the CIA is incompetent anyway. Nothing that’s revealed about Russian involvement after Trump is in office will be acted upon, or maybe even known by anyone outside the investigation.
For this reason, ten electors — nine Democrats and one Republican — have petitioned for an intelligence briefing on the issue before they vote on December 19th.
“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, the scope of those investigations, how far those investigations may have reached, and who was involved in those investigations,” they wrote. “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.”
The Clinton campaign has backed the electors’ request, and John Podesta has additionally stated “Each day in October, our campaign decried the interference of Russia in our campaign and its evident goal of hurting our campaign to aid Donald Trump… Despite our protestations, this matter did not receive the attention it deserved by the media in the campaign.” Obama made similar statements when he went on the Daily Show last night, telling Trevor Noah, “The real question that I think we all have to reflect on is what’s happened to our political system where some emails that were hacked and released ended up being the overwhelming story and the constant source of coverage — breathless coverage — that was depicted as somehow damning in all sorts of ways, when the truth of the matter was it was fairly routine stuff.” The overall meaning is clear: although Russian involvement seems pretty incontrovertible at this point, it was only one element of why Trump was elected on November 8th. It worked in tandem with misleading cable news and written coverage, “fake news” on Facebook and other outlets, and of course deep-seated American racism and sexism — after all, there were also public revelations and leaks about Trump’s reprehensible actions and views, from groping women to calling Mexicans rapists to nicknaming Alicia Machado “Miss Housekeeping,” and they don’t appear to have dissuaded many of his supporters.
In the meantime, Trump is making sure that Russia’s involvement in our government continues post-inauguration. His pick for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has major business conflicts of interest in Russia; as chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil, he has tried to pursue an “agreement with the state oil company to explore and pump underground resources in Siberia that could be worth tens of billions of dollars,” and opposed America’s economic sanctions on Russia because they blocked his project — Trump has spun these conflicts of interest as “vast experience at dealing successfully with all types of foreign governments.” He was awarded the Order of Friendship from Russia in 2013 “after signing deals with the state-owned Russian oil company Rosneft, whose chief, Igor Sechin, is seen as Putin’s loyal lieutenant,” and of course as an oil executive has worked towards “an illusion of scientific uncertainty around the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change,” according to Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress. It’s harrowing, but fairly clear: if the US government can’t manage to take a stand against Russian influence on its workings by the time Trump is elected, we’re in for a lot more of it.