Trapping Trump

All sixteen of our intelligence agencies say Russia worked hard to make sure Hillary Clinton lost the election. Donald Trump might have won anyway, but the Russians hacked into the DNC and the emails of John Podesta and what they found made its way to WikiLeaks, and then everyone saw the moves against Bernie Sanders and other nastiness, and who had qualms about Hillary, and why. That didn’t help her. The Russians may have dug up dirt on Trump and the Republicans – they most likely did – but they didn’t release that to anyone. They were messing with us, screwing up our election, and it was in only one direction.

Everyone kind of knew this was going on. Democrats talked about this in the summer before the election. In one of the debates Clinton called Trump “Putin’s Puppet” – but there was no solid proof of any hacking – except there was. All sixteen of our intelligence agencies – the CIA and the NSA and the FBI and Army Intelligence and all the rest, and the coordinating agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence – had told key members of Congress in a secret session in October that this was actually a certainty. Mitch McConnell and the other Republicans said that this could not be made public – they’d scream holy hell – that would be unfair – that would be partisan meddling in the election. President Obama would catch hell if he made any of this public.

Obama caved – because all the polls showed that Hillary Clinton would win the election easily. It wasn’t worth the trouble. Fine – no one would know – but then, after the election, news of that consensus in the intelligence community leaked. The intelligence community slowly and somewhat reluctantly confirmed the leaks. Presumably, Putin would have had no problem with Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden. This was all about Hillary – she’d pissed off Putin a few years ago. This had helped Trump win. It may not have been the deciding factor in his win, but it helped. That’s what they confirmed in mid-December.

Donald Trump seemed to panic. Russia said they did no such thing, and now Trump was pissed. He did win big, legitimately, damn it! He told America that all sixteen of our intelligence agencies are a bunch of “hacks” – he doesn’t trust them at all. No one should. He’ll take the word of the Russian government over the word of all sixteen of our intelligence agencies any day of the week. He won’t take their Presidential Daily Briefings either. He’s “smart” – he doesn’t need them.

This was an odd position to take – stand with Trump and Putin, and make America great again. The alternative was to stand with the intelligence services of the United States government and ruin America. That’s what would happen if the legitimacy of the new present-elect might be questioned. It was bad enough that Trump lost the popular vote by almost three million votes. How the hell is he supposed to govern if there’s solid proof that the Russian government helped him win and a clear majority of American voters never wanted him to be president in the first place? He’d start off with no legitimacy at all. His panic was justified.

The answer was to stand with Putin. The Russians did nothing. Putin is one of the good guys.

He is? That notion is a problem for a lot of Americans, but particularly for Reagan Republicans – and that would be pretty much all Republicans, before Trump came along. Ronald Reagan defeated the “evil empire” that was the Soviet Union. Everyone knows about Reagan. He tore down the Berlin Wall with his bare hands. He stuck it to the Russians. They deserved it. That’s the word, but the Soviet Union collapsed under its own absurd weight of course, just after they gave up on their effort to remake Afghanistan into something they wanted it to be. Their military collapsed, their economy collapsed, but no matter – Ronald Reagan was strong. Russia was the enemy. He won because he was strong. They lost. The Cold War ended. That’s the sort of thing Republicans do. They stick it to the Russians.

So what’s with Trump, their new president? What is Trump up to here?

Republicans decided to shut up. Let’s not talk about this. Let’s talk about repealing Obamacare, and about turning Medicare into a voucher system where those over sixty-five get a small discount coupon to buy private insurance, and talk about doing the same with the VA system. Let’s talk about ending regulation of most everything and about massive tax cuts for the very wealthy – the “job creators” – and let’s talk about deporting eleven million folks and building that wall. Let’s talk about a Supreme Court that will make abortion illegal again – and maybe contraception too. There’s lots of stuff to talk about. But let’s not talk about Putin messing up our election. People will forget about that, sooner or later – and probably sooner, given that the American public seems to have the attention span of a gnat.

That’s a reasonable plan. One news story does push out another, but Obama just stuck it to the Republicans:

The Obama administration announced sweeping new measures against Russia on Thursday in retaliation for what U.S. officials have characterized as interference in this fall’s presidential election, ordering the expulsion of Russian “intelligence operatives” and slapping new sanctions on state agencies and individuals suspected in the hacks of U.S. computer systems.

The response, unveiled just weeks before President Obama leaves office, culminates months of internal debate over how to react to Russia’s election-year provocations. In recent months, the FBI and CIA have concluded that Russia intervened repeatedly in the 2016 election, leaking damaging information in an ­attempt to undermine the electoral process and help Donald Trump take the White House.

Damn. The story won’t go away, and that cornered Trump:

Because Thursday’s announcement is an executive action, it can be undone by the next administration. But Obama’s last-minute measures put pressure on Trump, who has largely waved off the allegations against Russia, to make a decision about whether to keep the punitive measures in place.

In a statement issued by his transition office late Thursday, Trump was noncommittal, saying, “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.”

“Nevertheless,” he said, “in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.”

That really is a major concession. He’s willing to listen to “the facts” – and using that word must have hurt. He still may say that all of these folks are full of shit and he knows better, because he knows Putin, but he actually conceded that there are something called “facts” – and they may not be his facts. That’s gotta hurt, and Obama is on firm ground here:

Taken together, the sanctions and expulsions announced Thursday were the most far-reaching U.S. response to Russian activities since the end of the Cold War, and the most specific related to Russian hacking. The administration also released a listing of addresses of computers linked to the Russian cyberattacks and samples of malware inserted into U.S. systems…

Obama, who had promised a tough U.S. response, said the new actions were “a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests.” He said Americans should be “alarmed” by an array of Russian moves, including interference in the election and harassment of U.S. diplomats overseas.

“Such activities have consequences,” the president said in a statement.

Those consequences would be these:

The new measures include sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies, three companies that are believed to have provided support for government cyber operations, and four Russian cyber officials. The two agencies named are the GRU, Russia’s military spy service, and the civilian spy agency FSB, a successor to the KGB.

The administration has also ordered 35 Russian operatives to leave the United States and will shut down Russian-owned facilities on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and on Long Island in New York believed to have been used for intelligence purposes.

State Department spokesman Mark C. Toner said the diplomatic retaliation was partly a response to Russian provocations against American personnel in Russia, including “arbitrary police stops, physical ­assault, and the broadcast on state TV of personal details about our personnel that put them at risk.”

Guess what? Putin isn’t a good guy, and he’ll pay:

Obama suggested Thursday that the United States may undertake covert activity in response to Russian activities. Officials gave no details. The Treasury Department also designated two Russian hackers, Evgeny Bogachev and Aleksey Belan, for criminal cyber-activities involving U.S. firms and unrelated to the election hacks.

And this is war:

Moscow, which has denied involvement in attacks related to the election, vowed to respond in kind.

“I cannot say now what the response will be, although, as we know, there is no alternative here to the principle of reciprocity,” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitri Peskov said in a statement late Thursday evening carried by the Interfax news service.

Fine, but they did what they did:

U.S. officials say they have been refining for months their assessment of the attacks, in which they say a Russian military intelligence agency hacked the Democratic National Committee and stole emails that were later released by WikiLeaks. Emails hacked from the account of John Podesta, who chaired Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, also were made public. State electoral systems were also targeted, but administration officials said Thursday, as they have in the past, that they have no evidence the actual voting process was interfered with on Election Day.

While U.S. officials have not named Putin himself in the cyber-meddling, Obama has suggested that approval came from the very top of the Russian government.

As part of the new measures, the administration has amended a 2015 executive order allowing the president to respond to foreign cyberattacks.

That order was intended primarily for attacks against infrastructure or commercial targets, but officials adapted it to cover attempts to undermine the electoral process – not only in the United States but in other countries as well.

In short, this isn’t going to happen again. Trump is on his own now:

In a call with reporters, U.S. officials said they chose to announce the new measures before the end of Obama’s term in an attempt to educate Americans about Russian activities and to deter future intrusions.

“There’s every reason to believe Russia will interfere with future U.S. elections and future elections around the world,” said one senior official, speaking on the condition of anonymity ­because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

“The Russian actions have been sustained over an extended period of time, and by any definition are against the national interests of the United States, not the interests of President Obama.” The harassment, the official said, “has been escalating steadily for some time” and is “a direct threat to the ability of the United States to conduct diplomacy.”

Both U.S. allies and American businesses were concerned about Russian activities, the official said, and “if Trump transition officials aren’t, then they should explain why.”

Ouch. But Politico reports on what really hurts:

President Barack Obama’s eleventh-hour Russia sanctions present a big test for congressional Republicans, who are torn between decades-old GOP principles and their new standard-bearer’s unorthodox embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Democrats are already seeking to exploit this rift, drafting legislation designed to make it harder for President-elect Donald Trump to unilaterally roll back Obama’s new sanctions.

The goal is to force Republicans into a tough spot in which they can either soften their long-standing animosity toward Russia, opening themselves to charges of hypocrisy – or defy Trump, who on Wednesday dismissed efforts to punish Russia by saying “we ought to get on with our lives.”

This is the Trump Trap:

“Now is not the ‘time to get on with our lives,'” Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. “The executive branch has acted, but it is imperative the legislative branch now pick up the ball and move it forward. Congressional sanctions can complement and strengthen these new executive sanctions.”

The Maryland senator vowed to introduce bills next month to create an independent commission to investigate Russian meddling in the election and hit the country with “comprehensive enhanced sanctions.” Other Democrats are also pushing legislation to codify the Obama-era sanctions.

A Senate Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it will be telling whether Republicans get on board with such measures. “It remains to be seen whether these guys are all talk and no action,” said the aide, who noted that “this is the Republican Party that in 2012 called Russia the No. 1 geopolitical foe for the United States in the world.”

They have a wedge too:

Democrats will likely have support in these efforts from two of the Senate’s leading GOP defense hawks, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. They issued a joint statement Thursday saying they “intend to lead the effort in the new Congress to impose stronger sanctions on Russia.”

McCain and Graham, though, have repeatedly defied Trump on the Russia issue, pushing for expanded investigations into Russia’s election interference. It remains to be seen where other Republicans will come down on the sanctions issue.

Okay, McCain and Graham may be alone in this, but other Republicans are squirming:

House Speaker Paul Ryan called the new sanctions “overdue,” but a spokesman declined to comment when asked whether the Wisconsin Republican would support legislation making it harder for Trump to roll them back.

“While today’s action by the administration is overdue, it is an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia,” Ryan said in a statement. “And it serves as a prime example of this administration’s ineffective foreign policy that has left America weaker in the eyes of the world.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the sanctions “a good initial step, however late in coming.”

“As the next Congress reviews Russian actions against networks associated with the U.S. election,” McConnell said, “we must also work to ensure that any attack against the United States is met with an overwhelming response.”

It seems they agree with Obama, not Trump, but maintain that Obama is a weak fool. They’ll be stronger. Trump may have to slap them down for saying that. The trap closes:

“I hope the incoming Trump administration, which has been far too close to Russia throughout the campaign and transition, won’t think for one second about weakening these new sanctions or our existing regime,” said incoming Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. “We need to punch back against Russia, and punch back hard.”

Which Republicans will agree with that and which will not? None of them want to be destroyed in a Trump tweetstorm and voted out of office next time around. Trump Republicans stand by their man. If that means standing by Putin they’ll stand by Putin too – unless they’re old-school. They might remember Reagan. They might be trapped too. It’s not easy being a Republican these days.

In fact, that can lead to odd contortions:

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) argued in a Thursday interview that the actors behind the hacks of Democratic organizations and operatives during the 2016 presidential race “merely did what the media should have done.”

Asked by MSNBC anchor Hallie Jackson whether he knew anything about impending sanctions on Russia for the role the U.S. intelligence committee says it played in the hacks, Franks said that to his knowledge, no relevant intelligence committees had been informed about the sanctions. He then appeared to question the U.S. intelligence community’s attribution of the hack to Russian actors.

“Most of what we’re talking about now is based on leaks,” Franks said, adding that there was no evidence that Russia hacked U.S. voting systems.

“If anything, whatever they might have done was to try to use information in a way that may have affected something that they believe was in their best interest,” Franks said.

“But the bottom line,” he continued, “if Russia succeeded in giving the American people information that was accurate, then they merely did what the media should have done.”

Okay, Putin is a good guy, but even if he isn’t, he did a good thing, because our press didn’t – or something. Trent Franks is trapped too, but an item at CNN gets to something more basic:

Next month, President-elect Donald Trump will become the third US president to be inaugurated in the 21st century, an age shaped by computers and the Internet.

But for all his social media prowess the 70-year-old incoming president remains skeptical of emails, the Internet and, ultimately, “the whole age of computer.”

“I think the computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole, you know, age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what’s going on. We have speed and we have a lot of other things, but I’m not sure you have the kind of security you need,” Trump told reporters Thursday evening.

He’s seventy. Computers are so odd. He doesn’t trust them. No one should:

“I don’t do the email thing,” Trump said in a sworn deposition in 2007, as reported by The New York Times.

His secretary sometimes sent emails on his behalf, but he did not. Nor did he own a personal home or office computer.

In a 2013 deposition, Trump said he used email only “very rarely.”

And on the campaign trail, Trump sometimes explained his dislike for, and even distrust for, email in the context of bashing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server and the DNC hack, which boosted his campaign.

“I’m not an email person,” Trump said during a July press conference in which he invited Russia to uncover and release Clinton’s deleted emails. “I don’t believe in it because I think it can be hacked, for one thing. But when I send an email – if I send one – I send one almost never. I’m just not a believer in email.”

“In the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.”

Is he capable of understanding the facts of the matter? He’s trapped too.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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