President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia directed a vast cyberattack aimed at denying Hillary Clinton the presidency and installing Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office, the nation’s top intelligence agencies said in an extraordinary report they delivered on Friday to Mr. Trump.
The officials presented their unanimous conclusions to Mr. Trump in a two-hour briefing at Trump Tower in New York that brought the leaders of America’s intelligence agencies face to face with their most vocal skeptic, the president-elect, who has repeatedly cast doubt on Russia’s role. The meeting came just two weeks before Mr. Trump’s inauguration and was underway even as the electoral votes from his victory were being formally counted in a joint session of Congress.
Soon after leaving the meeting, intelligence officials released the declassified, damning report that described the sophisticated cybercampaign as part of a continuing Russian effort to weaken the United States government and its democratic institutions. The report — a virtually unheard-of, real-time revelation by the American intelligence agencies that undermined the legitimacy of the president who is about to direct them — made the case that Mr. Trump was the favored candidate of Mr. Putin.
The Times story is a mostly fair, if incomplete, description of the report itself, which is a provocative, disturbing and infuriating document. Damning? I don’t know about that. Anyone can damn something, but to be sure the damning is just requires evidence.
Observations and Questions:
1. The report isn’t evidence of anything. It just isn’t, and anyone or any source that states otherwise is misleading us. It would not be admissible as evidence if Russia or Putin were on trial in the U.S. for trying to influence the 2016 election. The document is a statement of opinions after analysis of material and sources we are not allowed to see. At the beginning, the report goes to great lengths to explain why this is, and the explanation is sound. Unless, however, the position we are supposed to take is that the intelligence community is to be assumed to be 100% correct, uninfluenced by bias, and ought to be believed without reservations despite the presence of hard evidence, the declassified report is a statement by experts of an analysis based on experience and study, of exactly what, we don’t know.
2.Regarding the Times story: the intention of the news media to undermine the Trump Presidency and bolster Democrats who want to blame their candidate’s defeat on anything but her own weaknesses and conduct appears to be on display in the Times story. For example, we have this statement:
“The Russian leader, the report said, sought to denigrate Mrs. Clinton, and the report detailed what the officials had revealed to President Obama a day earlier: Mr. Trump’s victory followed a complicated, multipart cyberinformation attack whose goal had evolved to help the Republican win.”
The leaping to the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefor because of it”) is both a human tendency to be avoided and well-known. This statement appeals to it, intentionally, or incompetently. The fact that Trump’s shocking victory came after the cyber-attacks does not mean or even suggest that the attacks were responsible for that result. The Times immediately, in the next sentence, even states that “The 25-page report did not conclude that Russian involvement tipped the election to Mr. Trump.” Well, those are mixed messages. Do I, based on the uninterrupted anti-Trump attitude of the Times in its headlines, placement of stories, tone and pitch of news reports, op-eds and editorials, conclude that the mixed message is intentional or sparked by negligence seeded by bias?
3. Much further down in its story, the Times admits,
While it accused Russian intelligence agencies of obtaining and maintaining “access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards,” it concluded — as officials have publicly — that there was no evidence of tampering with the tallying of the vote on Nov. 8.
The report, reflecting the assessments of the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the National Security Agency, stopped short of backing up Mr. Trump on his declaration that the hacking activity had no effect on the election.
“We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election,” the report concluded, saying it was beyond its responsibility to analyze American “political processes” or public opinion.
A recent poll by The Economist and YouGov found that 52 percent of Democrats now believe Russia “tampered with vote tallies”; not that it just leaked emails to the public, but that it altered the outcome of the ballots in the election. If one accepts that poll, as The Federalist points out, more Democrats believe the Russians installed Trump into the Presidency Republicans ever believed Barack Obama was a Muslim. That Russia “hacked the election” is, at this point at least, fake news.
Why isn’t the Times doing its job as an objective, independent news source by addressing that widespread partisan delusion with, for example, a headline stating that “Declassified Intelligence Report Says No Evidence That Russia Affected Elections Results”? That statement needs to be delivered loudly, unequivocally and clearly. Since it isn’t, I have to ask why.
4. That this is important was on vivid display yesterday at the Capitol. Democrats are still pushing the false narrative that Trump’s election was somehow tainted—let’s see, first it was all those racists and misogynists, then it was James Comey, then alleged voter suppression—all those African-American voter who couldn’t get voter IDs in Wisconsin, for example, where anyone can get one for free, and Pennsylvania, which doesn’t require ID, and Michigan, which also requires none: you know, the three states that flipped the Electoral College?—then it was the Electoral College, since the popular vote is what should elect real Presidents, then it was “fake news” on Facebook, and now it’s the Russians.
Yesterday, as Congress met in a joint session to officially certify the election results, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) cited Russia’s interference in the election as the first of many Democratic objections to Trump’s Electoral College victory. All of this was allowed and possible engineered by Nancy Pelosi… the House Democratic Party leader who tweeted this last October, when everyone was attacking Trump for refusing to pledge to accept the eventual election results:
Yesterday, oddly enough, Pelosi appeared to have forgotten that ringing declaration of process and bi-partisanship, saying at a news conference that the Russian hacking concerns cast a pall over the 2016 vote:”That’s why people have some level of dismay today on the vote … about the Electoral College. How much is known about the foreign disruption of our election?” Nancy is talking about questions like “How much is really known about Barack Obama’s background? That birth certificate sure looks funny….” that Democrats found, justly, disgusting on the part of a tiny minority of GOP fools.
This is part of a organized post-election effort by Democrats and the news media to cast doubts on Trump’s legitimacy.
5. Call me suspicious, but I find it very strange that the section the Times itself calls “the key” to the report is buried at the very end of the paper’s summary, after 1431 words:
The key to the public report’s assessment is that Russia’s motives “evolved over the course of the campaign.” When it appeared that Mrs. Clinton was more likely to win, it concluded, the Russian effort focused “on undermining her future presidency,” with pro-Kremlin bloggers preparing a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #DemocracyRIP. It noted that Mr. Putin had a particular animus for Mrs. Clinton because he believed she had incited protests against him in 2011.
Yet the attacks, the report said, began long before anyone could have known that Mr. Trump, considered a dark horse, would win the Republican nomination. It said the attacks began as early as July 2015, when Russian intelligence operatives first gained access to the Democratic National Committee’s networks. Russia maintained that access for 11 months, until “at least June 2016,” the report concludes, leaving open the possibility that Russian cyberattackers may have had access even after the firm CrowdStrike believed that it had kicked them off the networks.
Wait—so how does the intelligence community thus conclude that the objective of the effort was to elect Donald Trump? When did it start appearing less likely that Clinton was going to win? I must have missed that stage of the campaign, like the entire polling community, Democrats, Republicans, and the news media. The report says that the Russians assumed that Trump would lose right up to November 8. Here, perhaps more than in any other area, actual evidence and not “assessments” are mandatory. Everything I see suggests that Russia did what it did to undermine Clinton and her inevitable Presidency, not to elect Trump.
6. The focus on Trump allows the news media, as usual, to divert attention away from the complete failure of President Obama’s administration to protect the nation from these kinds of foreign attacks, and the President’s selective outrage over the Russian hacking when there was no announced responses to far more damaging cyber-attacks from abroad raised questions as well.
Kudos are due to ABC reporter Jonathan Karl for having the integrity to ask one of the main ones. Karl asked White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest this week why the President expelled 35 Russian diplomats for hacking the DNC, but didn’t expel any Chinese diplomats for hacking the OPM, a huge government agency, in 2015, allowing China access to the highly confidential records of 21 million government employees. “Why did the White House do nothing publicly in reaction to that hack, which in some ways, was even more widespread than what we saw here from the Russians?” queried Karl.
Earnest’s answer: “Humina humina humina…,” but phrased in a Josh Earnest rather than a Ralph Kramden manner:
Earnest: These are two cyber incidents that are malicious in nature but materially different…I’m not downplaying the significance of it, I’m just saying that it is different than seeking to interfere int he conduct of a U.S. national election. I can’t speak to the steps that have been taken by the United States in response to that Chinese malicious cyber activity–
Karl: But nothing was announced! There was not a single step announced by the White House.
Earnest: It is true that there was no public announcement about our response, but I can’t speak to what response may have been initiated in private.
Karl: But no diplomats expelled, no compounds shut down, no sanctions imposed, correct? You don’t do that stuff secretly.
“Karl’s question, and Earnest’s inability to provide a coherent response, is the question the media should have been asking ever since Obama and the Democrats suddenly embraced Mitt Romney’s formulation of Russia as our #1 geopolitical foe over the last two months. That question should also be aimed at Congress as they ask for joint select committees to delve into the Russian propaganda campaign. The basic question is this: Why didn’t you do anything about China first?”
The uncharitable answer being given in various conservative or cynical forums: “Simple: Because the Russian hacks were harmful to the fortunes of the Democratic Party, while the Chinese hacks just harmed millions of real people and the nation.” If you find that unfair, by all means come up with a more plausible answer.
7. A good argument can be made that the most troubling part of the report is the intelligence community’s view that Russia supports anti-fracking activity in the U.S., and exploited the Occupy movement for propaganda purposes. The Times didn’t view this part of the report worth mentioning. Let’s see how many non-conservative media sources do.
8. Trump’s vehement denials that the e-mail hacks affected the election-–there is also no real evidence that they did not—is very similar, and just as stupid—as the Clinton camp’s screaming about James Comey letter to Congress about the Weiner e-mails. It makes him look like he has something to hide, brings more attention to what is, in substance, more of an indictment of the Obama Administration and the DNC than it is anything that reflects badly on him.
It’s understandable that the President-Elect feels unfairly persecuted by Democrats since the election, since he has been. Presidents. however, are supposed to be able to handle such things in a rational and restrained manner.