From Russia With Lies: Electors, Senators and the CIA Say We Need Answers on Russia’s Election Involvement

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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.


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Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

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20 Comments

  1. Once again Rachel, thank you for slogging through this crap for us. The news this weekend has been ridiculous. Maddow had a couple of good segments on this Friday night and last night, which have been really illuminating.

    The fact that so much of the world was so much more focused on what was IN the hacked emails than how the hacking happened is damning. And the fact that Congressional Republicans worked to keep this under wraps until now is, frankly, criminal.

  2. Thank you for sharing the news. It almost has me depressed over what the future may look like. Also, doesn’t help I’ve been listening to AFI all week as a dark comfort. But, on the plus side at least we have a few major Republicans opposing Rex so there is some hope. Where is anonymous to help us again when we need them?

  3. “…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…”

    We can do better than this. It reads like bitter entitled scapegoating. I’m a queer woman of color and have been dealing with the pain and anxiety of this election like everyone else, but I think we do ourselves a disservice when we approach our political analysis this way. Instead of stopping to truly examine all the weird and terrible phenomena of this election and ask ourselves what it all means, we’re acting like we know we were owed a win and were obviously robbed. I think that’s a damaging attitude to our cause in the long run and serves to make ideological opponents defensive, rather than open to our perspectives and struggles.

    I know this is a safe community forum for real talk about the issues in our country. I think we owe ourselves a deeper look.

    • I disagree. Rejecting that deep-seated American racism and sexism (and other forms of prejudice) is a problem is what is truly harmful. There is no “better than this”. There is the truth and there are lies. I prefer the truth and facts surrounding this election. I cannot abide the lies any longer.

      • More than one thing can be harmful, it’s not a competition. We can absolutely go deeper than this article. There is rejection of lies, and then there is analysis. And then from the analysis, we figure out what to do next. Dividing the world into truth in lies feels satisfying and vindicating, but it does nothing to inspire a voter to consider your perspective.

        A personal example: a good friend of mine voted for Trump. Realizing that he is not racist or sexist in his every day actions, I asked myself why he wouldn’t be dissuaded by Trump’s behavior. I realized that he didn’t know what it was like to have to care because his mere safe-existence as a person has never been at stake because he is a white man. I explained this to him and he took it to heart. This same friend is incredibly turned off by language like what is used in this article. It’s too easy, overly simplified, and will not provide a path for action or win us anything.

        • There is only so much rewording or reframing or spinning of perspective, the facts, that the facts will tolerate before the facts become distorted. Same goes for trying to reach an audience that you are trying to persuade, if you cannot talk their language, or get them at ease, get them relating to you, in ways that they respect, then the effort is a bit of a lost cause.

          There is only so much respectability politics that facts can tolerate before facts get distorted by ‘respectability’. Some truths and experiences such as racism, homophobia and sexism are unpleasant no matter who describes them. Rape can’t ever be dressed up to be something other than what it is. If people cannot hear or listen to a diverse truth, then maybe stop wasting time trying to explain it to them. It won’t be received.

          I am saying that if you have to compromise the integrity of your communication in relaying your message, then don’t bother. My two cents.

          • Again, I’m not denying the truth in any of this. But I think in a political article, spinning some winding web of Russia interfered because Ivanka hung out with Putin’s girlfriend once and also fake news and sexism is just a blunt instrument. What are Putin’s geopolitical interests? What does that mean for me and my safety? What does it mean for disenfranchised people in other countries?

            How did racism and sexism help Trump win an election? Is it as simple as voters not caring about rape?

            Rereading my comments just to be sure (because I believe in a healthy dose of self-examination, believe it or not), I’m pretty sure my integrity isn’t compromised and I’m just asking for a deeper look. This article takes a lot for granted and could do a sharper job of describing what’s at stake. I’m not asking for a pat on the back to people who disagree, I’m asking for a really strong reckoning of what happened here in order to form the basis of healthy debate.

        • Natalie, what you’re asking for just isn’t what this article is about. There have been plenty of think peices written about what the left did wrong, and what we could have done differently to win the election. That’s a valuable conversation to have, but it doesn’t need to be a part of every single conversation. Also, this article is aimed at an overwhelmingly liberal audience that does not needs convincing. Again, reaching out to convervatives is important, but it just isn’t the goal here.

          This article is primarily about Russia’s attempts to influence the election, and it does a perfectly good job of explaining that.

          • Dialethia, this is exactly the attitude I’m talking about: a “liberal audience that does not need convincing.” That expresses so much self-satisfaction. I wasn’t looking for convincing, I was looking for insight. If we’re not here for something a little deeper, why don’t we just google the Washington Post ourselves?

        • I’ve been pondering this too. I completely believe that Trump was elected because he appealed to sexist, racist, xenophobic voters, but I’d like to know more about the particulars – he’s certainly not the only racist populist in America – what made him so successful? We need to know this to to change the conditions that created him.

          Some of the sociological research into Trump supporters during the election fascinated (and scared) me. Especially the study that found he appealed to people who had an authoritarian bent – that is people who want a strong leader to protect them when they feel threatened, who want protection against a perceived dangerous other. (I’ll see if I can find the study).

  4. Okay, so I still can’t figure out what exactly was Russia’s influence on the election? Because “(…) its evident goal of hurting our campaign to aid Donald Trump” sounds like a thing they all do in politics? Proof maybe?

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