Discretion is the better part of valor. Pick your fights. Sing a few choruses of Let It Be – or follow the advice of W. C. Fields – “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”
This is advice for Donald Trump. The Russians hacked our election. They worked hard to make Hilary Clinton look like a sick old lady, or a fool, or a scheming harridan. They hacked the DNC servers and John Podesta’s emails to find what they needed. There were worries in there, and strategies for dealing with the far more popular Bernie Sanders, and this and that the Clinton campaign thought might be damaging to her. They were worried over there, the Russians grabbed what they found, and handed off to WikiLeaks what was most damaging, or at least embarrassing. WikiLeaks then released that stuff almost daily, but timed to do the most damage. Everyone kind of knew that this was going on. In his last press conference, in July, Trump gave a shout-out to the Russians. Do more of this. He said he loved WikiLeaks. He hasn’t given a press conference since.
That shout-out to the Russians was odd, but Trump was a clown, and Hillary was going to win, easily, so it didn’t matter very much. That shout-out was no more than a curiosity. It would be a footnote in history books one day – but then Trump won the Republican nomination. That shout-out became a problem. The systematic and continuous leaks of all that stolen stuff became a problem. It sure looked like the Russians had stolen all that stuff and were working for Trump, or at least in his interest. Trump dumped his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who had worked for Putin’s guy in the Ukraine. Carter Page was sent packing too – he’d spent a lot of time in Moscow working for Putin’s oil buddies. This was damage control.
It didn’t work. The Russians were up to something. 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 – told key members of Congress in a secret session in October that this was actually a certainty.
News of that leaked and caused no end of trouble for Donald Trump. He found himself in the position of saying that he’d take the word of the Russian government over the word of all sixteen of our intelligence agencies any day of the week. Putin said the Russians didn’t do this, but this forced Trump into an odd position – stand with Trump and Putin, and against our government, and thus make America great again.
What? That was an absurd position, but it was necessary. He won the presidency all on his own after all. That had to be. Putin said he didn’t do any of this. Of course he didn’t. Trump never needed Putin anyway – and Putin’s a fine fellow.
There were also alternative suspects – the Chinese, some morbidly obese man in a basement in New Jersey, in his pajamas, teenage boys – or it was computers in general. No computers are safe. Donald Trump also said he knows all about hacking, and that he knows things no one else knows, which seems to mean he knows what the CIA and FBI and NSA and all the rest don’t know – but he’s not telling yet. He says that no one, no one at all, knows if the Russians did the hacking-the-election thing. The intelligence agencies really don’t know – but they just testified in open session in Congress, and thus on national television, that they were now more certain than they were in October. The whole thing was a Russian effort to make sure that Hillary Clinton never became president. Putin personally directed it. He preferred Trump. He screwed up our election – and they had the goods – the names of the middlemen, the cut-outs who supplied WikiLeaks, and dates and times of the exchanges. They also had intercepts of the celebrations in the Kremlin when Trump won. We can hack too.
They gave a full report to President Obama on Thursday morning – the classified report with means and methods – how they knew what they know. Then they headed off to Congress for the open hearings – the same report without the means and methods, to protect and maintain their sources. Additional details were leaked to NBC and the Washington Post – but scrubbed of means and methods. Trump now wants Congress to investigate those leaks as treason or something, but the damage was done. Then, on Friday morning, they headed up to Trump Tower in Manhattan, to give Trump the same report they gave Obama – what they knew and exactly how they knew it. Trump was boxed in.
It was time to quit pretending what was wasn’t what was – no point in being a damn fool about it.
Trump was a damn fool about it:
U.S. intelligence officials on Friday laid out a stark case – both publicly and privately in Trump Tower to the president-elect – that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed a massive cyberattack to “undermine public faith” in the democratic process and to “harm” Hillary Clinton’s chances of beating Donald Trump.
Trump doesn’t appear sold.
There’s no way he could be sold:
Trump is maintaining a defiant posture, asserting that officials did not conclude the hacks swayed the election his way.
“While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines,” Trump said in his statement after meeting with intelligence officials.
That’s kind of beside the point, as the report wasn’t about that at all:
The declassified report from the CIA, FBI and NSA didn’t even weigh in on the issue.
“We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election,” the report stated.
This is more to the point:
“It’s really remarkable to have someone who’s never been a consumer of intelligence products, who has no idea about the cycle of gathering intelligence, trying to claim with credibility he knows what’s going on. He doesn’t,” said Thomas Sanderson, the director of the transnational threats project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It suggests that he simply doesn’t want to agree with the finding that Russia was behind this because it delegitimizes his campaign win.”
That’s blindingly obvious:
Trump’s stiff statement came after the president-elect and his allies spent much of the day front-running the meeting and the report, downplaying Trump’s ties to Russia and calling on lawmakers to investigate leaked details of the report to news outlets.
Trump himself Friday morning called all the attention paid to the hacks a “political witch hunt,” motivated, he claimed, by his political rivals and their sour grapes over his surprising win.
“They got beaten very badly in the election. I won more counties in the election than Ronald Reagan,” Trump said of his political opponents in an interview with the New York Times. “They are very embarrassed about it. To some extent, it’s a witch hunt. They just focus on this.”
Yeah, yeah – total losers always try to tear down winners:
Trump’s three-paragraph statement on Friday, issued at 2:34 p.m. after the meeting wrapped up, began on a conciliatory note.
“I had a constructive meeting and conversation with the leaders of the Intelligence Community this afternoon. I have tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation,” Trump said in the opening of the carefully crafted statement which pivoted quickly to the declarative statement at the heart of Trump’s effort winning the ongoing public relations battle over the legitimacy of the election that he won – after he spent months last fall, preparing for a loss, asserting that it would be “rigged.”
After noting that a number of foreign entities try to penetrate U.S. targets, Trump said that there had been similar attacks against the Republican National Committee but that those attacks failed because of the RNC’s “strong hacking defenses” – a topic the intelligence community did not address in Friday’s report.
That’s because they released the scrubbed report late in day – the servers of the Republican National Committee had been hacked. The Russians had the goods on them too – they just didn’t release even a hint of what they’d dug up. Why would they? Of course, if things sour with Trump, they might use that to screw him over. The report didn’t address that possibility – but Trump was wrong and might want to worry a bit. Putin has him by the balls now. The report did say that Putin will keep this up, and he has been aggressive:
The report released Friday afternoon provided sweeping conclusions of Putin’s direct interest in tipping the election in Trump’s favor.
“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election,” said the report, which is a declassified version of a longer, classified document the intelligence agencies prepared at Obama’s request.
“Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” it continued.
The report also said the Russian government developed “a clear preference” for President-elect Donald Trump as the campaign went on, and eventually “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”
That’s how the game is played now, and Trump lost one Republican:
In the wake of the release of the report on Friday and Trump’s reaction, House Speaker Paul Ryan distanced himself from the president-elect on Russia’s alleged tampering, saying Moscow tried to “meddle.”
“Russia has a track record of working against our interests, and they clearly tried to meddle in our political system,” Ryan said in a statement. “I strongly condemn any outside interference in our elections, which we must work to prevent moving forward.”
W. C. Fields was right. Sometimes you hit a wall, as Glenn Thrush notes:
By the end of the day, it was clear that the strategy of intimidation and bluster that served Mr. Trump so well in the presidential campaign would not prove nearly as effective in Washington. Here was a reminder, should Mr. Trump heed it, that a president’s critics, especially the lords of Washington’s national security establishment, can’t always be cowed by a flash-grenade tweet or a withering quip about the possibility that a “400-lb. hacker” might have breached Democratic servers.
“I don’t think what worked in a campaign against Jeb Bush is really going to work when you are dealing, you know, with the combined power of the CIA, NSA and the FBI,” said John Weaver, a frequent critic of Mr. Trump who worked on Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s unsuccessful primary campaign against him.
Senator Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who has a good working relationship with Mr. Trump, warned him recently that it was “really dumb” to take on the intelligence services. He followed up with a warning on Wednesday that the president-elect needed “to calm down” his Twitter usage.
And there’s this:
In recent days, Mr. Trump’s aides have gently prodded him to drop the attacks on the intelligence community and mollify nervous Republicans by showing that he was moving ahead with forward-looking reforms of the sprawling intelligence-gathering bureaucracy, according to two people close to the discussions. “He can’t afford this fight,” one longtime adviser to Mr. Trump said. “He’s said it’s time to move on – well, move on.”
The decision to choose Dan Coats, a popular former senator from Indiana, as director of national intelligence had been in the works for some time, the officials said, but Mr. Trump’s advisers decided to announce the choice to ease concerns of a rift between the future Trump White House and the clandestine services.
They’re doing their best with this damn fool, but Josh Marshall sums up the situation nicely:
Set aside all Donald Trump’s nonsense about disbelieving the intelligence agencies and insisting there’s no evidence against Russia. Set aside his amazingly public spat with those agencies. Set aside just why Russia did this. There’s the simple fact that just two weeks before a new President is sworn into office, the country’s intelligence agencies are publicly releasing a report claiming that the United States’ great 20th century rival, Russia, conspired to assist in that new President’s election. Step back and just absorb that. That is simply mind-boggling. Who could have imagined such a thing, such a confluence of events – the original act, the intelligence community’s claims – would ever happen.
Well, the damn fool wouldn’t quit. He doesn’t do discretion. That’s not his style, and Kathleen Parker has a bit of fun with that:
First, a history refresher: For the past nine years, a smattering of Americans, most recently led by our now president-elect, have insisted that Barack Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya.
For years, Donald Trump was unrelenting in his insistence that Obama prove beyond existing proof that he was born in Hawaii and not in the African country of his biological father. That Obama said he is a Christian wasn’t enough to persuade Trump’s followers, who apparently know a Christian when they see one.
Further, there is no logical basis for assuming that a young person briefly raised in a given country – say, Indonesia – necessarily would adopt the dominant religion of that country. He might, however, observe that though people worship in different ways, we’re all essentially the same. Never mind the cruel and absurd assumption that being a Muslim means that one is, ipso facto, a “bad person.”
That, in fact, is discretion:
Respecting others despite differences is, generally speaking, the hallmark of an enlightened soul, as well as a desirable disposition in a leader. Yet, those who sided with Trump interpreted Obama’s gentle touch toward the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims as evidence of a hidden agenda to advance Islam in the United States – notwithstanding Obama’s rather robust drone operations, which eliminated quite a few bad actors who happened to be, or said they were, Muslims.
Noteworthy is that these same Obama doubters weren’t bestirred to suspicion when then-President George W. Bush visited a mosque immediately after 9/11. Nor, thus far, have they expressed any concern about Trump’s cavalier approach to Russia’s cyberattack on the United States.
That, in turn, might lead to this conclusion:
Given this history and recent evidence, isn’t it about time Trump to be declared a Russian spy?
No, I don’t really think he’s a spy because, unlike the man himself, I’m not given to crazy ideas. But what’s with this double standard? Under similar circumstances, how long do you think it would have taken for Obama to be called a traitor for defending a country that tried to thwart our democratic electoral process?
That’s what happens when you try, try again, and keep trying:
How surreal to realize that the man who soon will become president was long committed to a rumor soaked in paranoia and propagated by conspiracy theorists whose pursuit of truth stops at the point where facts and willful ignorance collide.
How perfectly terrifying.
And now? What is so obviously a conspiracy of Russian leadership, hackers and spies, Trump has repeatedly dismissed as lousy intelligence. Why would he do such a thing? Is it that he’s so thin-skinned he can’t tolerate anyone thinking that he might have benefited from the cyberattack? Or is it that he knew about it in advance and doesn’t want to be found out? This is how conspiracy theories get started. Then again, sometimes a conspiracy is just a conspiracy – and a fool is just a fool.
But there is logic:
Consider what we know: Our best intelligence indicates that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. Trump, who has long expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin (once a KGB agent, always a KGB agent), has his doubts.
Obviously, Trump wants to preserve the narrative that he won fair and square. And, clearly, claims of Russian interference would muss his ego. But is that it?
Consider further: Trump would rather make common cause with our fiercest geopolitical adversary (hat tip Mitt Romney) than take the word of our best people. Moreover, he has said he won’t receive daily security briefings and reportedly plans to reduce our security agencies.
Pray tell, whose side is this man on? When was the last time you had to ask that question about a president-elect?
Some things are becoming obvious:
On Friday, Trump met with real American spies and others who attempted to explain things to him, leaving open the question: Can Trump learn? From his statement following the meeting, it doesn’t seem so.
And here’s the QED:
In sum, when the president-elect persists in a state of denial, siding with the enemy against his own country’s best interests, one is forced to consider that Trump himself poses a threat to national security.
In Russia, they’d just call it treason.
QED – quod erat demonstrandum – “that which was to be demonstrated” – case closed, humorously, but it’s not very funny. And yes, Putin, a man Trump admires, would have him shot.
We won’t. He’s our new president. W. C. Fields wasn’t available.