Claiming Russian “interference,” Hillary Clinton’s team is demanding classified briefings for members of the Electoral College, citing “Trump’s willingness to disregard conclusions made by the intelligence community and his continuing defense of Russia.” While the effort has almost no chance of overturning the election result, the attempt to damage the President-elect by a partisan Central Intelligence Agency is all too real.
On Sunday, Trump called the claims of Russian manipulation “ridiculous” and “just another excuse” for Clinton’s loss. Trump disputed that the involvement by Russian intelligence into hacking at the DNC was certain, and pushed back against the narrative put forward by the CIA and the media, that Russian efforts were in any way important in the electoral outcome.
In fact, the contents of the emails by Clinton campaign chairman Podesta and others were only mildly embarrassing, and nowhere near as damaging as the Access Hollywood tape of Trump from 2005, which NBC held on to until October, when releasing it could do the greatest damage.
The only real revelation was the extent to which the DNC rigged the outcome of the primary process for Clinton, and against Bernie Sanders, but anyone with half a brain had already come to that conclusion, based on the limited number of debates and their obscure scheduling. The rest of the emails mostly detailed petty complaints about Hillary the candidate. The idea that any or all of the emails affected the trajectory of the electoral outcome is absurd, and deeply dishonest.
Had the Russians been able to dig up the 33,000 emails that Hillary destroyed, while obstructing justice in the FBI probe, and had those emails detailed a pay-to-play scandal involving Clinton Foundation money in exchange for State Department favors, then Russia could have been said to have altered the outcome of the race. But such was not the case.
The emails were a nuisance, nothing more; but from this thin gruel, the intelligence agencies of the United States are painting a picture of – in the words of former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell – “the political equivalent of 9/11”, a characterization both sick, in terms of the reference; and insane, given the disproportionality of the evidence.
Indeed, the CIA hasn’t been this concerned about cybersecurity since – well, never. The fact that China has hacked every agency and corporation in the US, and walked off with our most sensitive data, including plans for the new F-35 fifth generation jet fighter, never elicited one-tenth the outrage of poor John Podesta falling for a phishing scam.
The seventeen different intelligence agencies that report to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) are reportedly confident that the Russians did the hacking. They disagree; however, as to the intent of the leaking. Unlike the FBI and ODNI, the CIA assessed in a classified report – promptly broadcast – that Russia deliberately took sides in the election, favoring Trump by targeting Clinton. The evidence cited by the CIA was that both the RNC and the DNC were hacked, but damaging information was only leaked about the DNC.
This conclusion is idiotic for a number of reasons. First, the RNC may have been targeted, but that doesn’t mean they were successfully penetrated. Reince Priebus, Director of the RNC, denies they were hacked. Second, it is entirely possible that the Russians were successful in hacking the RNC, but simply didn’t find anything useful. This may be hard for the Clintonistas to comprehend, but not everyone is as corrupt as they are. Third, they may have concluded that Trump had no chance of winning – wasn’t that what we were all told? – so bothering with him was a waste of time. Fourth, anticipating a Clinton victory, the Russians may have been trying to remind her of everything else they had on her, so that she would do what they wanted when president.
There are dozens of plausible scenarios that could be spun given the murky facts. The point is that no one really knows, and for the CIA to confidently assert the very scenario that makes Trump look the worst – i.e. Russia helped Trump (because Trump likes Putin) – out of all the others is analytic malpractice. It furthermore constitutes a serious political attack by the CIA upon the President-elect, aiming to weaken his standing and place him on the defensive with regards to the intelligence community.
Former CIA director Michael Hayden told CNN: “I think the president-elect is the only prominent American that has not yet conceded that the Russians conducted a massive covert influence campaign against the United States.”
NBC News cited two unnamed “senior U.S. intelligence officials” saying Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved in efforts to intervene in the presidential election.
Former CIA spokesman George Little: Trump’s disrespect for the CIA and the wider intelligence community is “nothing short of shameful.”
Those paying attention to the Iraq War debate, following the failure to discover WMD, should recognize the stale pages of this by now familiar playbook – Republican presidents are not only to blame for any disagreement with the CIA, they are recklessly endangering national security, even if the fault lies with the intelligence gatherers and analysts themselves. That the CIA would wade into what is so obviously a partisan minefield with such enthusiasm, based on so little evidence, is proof positive of their bad faith and politicized nature.
This episode reeks of the Valerie Plame affair, where a liberal activist in the CIA maneuvered to have her husband Joe Wilson sent to check on Bush’s assertion that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger. He inadvertently confirmed the finding, but then wrote a New York Times op-ed saying in essence, ‘Bush lied’. While everyone wondered who Joe Wilson was, someone (Richard Armitage) told Robert Novak of Wilson’s wife, and everyone on the Left spent the next two years trying to pin the “crime” of outing Plame – who wasn’t even a covert agent protected under the law – on Bush. The real crime was that Plame conducted a black op against the administration she was supposed to be serving, and then shamelessly went on a publicity tour to claim credit for it.
Fast forward a few years, and the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate claimed that Iran had shuttered its nuclear weapons program. Even though the claim was (and continues to be) utter fiction, it effectively precluded the possibility that Bush would take military action against Iran’s nuclear sites, thereby securing a Democrat Party objective.
Democrats and their allies in the media and the intelligence bureaucracy are presently laying down a cornerstone of their anti-Trump narrative, and Republicans should expect more smears of Trump as a Putin stooge, or a sycophant to blood-thirsty dictators. The real danger is that being human, Trump may feel compelled to take action in a future circumstance in order to dispel – or at least not confirm – this dishonest narrative.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes demanded the CIA appear on Thursday in closed session to explain their rationale for asserting that Russia helped get Trump elected. They refused, explaining that they were still investigating – a fact which didn’t stop them from publicizing their half-baked theories.
The hostility of the CIA towards their political enemies, and their willingness to act on that hostility, despite the serious dangers their unprofessional conduct presents, is or ought to be criminal. Something is deeply rotten in the CIA, and it will be up to Mike Pompeo, the incoming director should he be confirmed, to fix it. A full house cleaning, including the firing of a great many people, will be required for Langley to finally get the message that our elected officials, and not they, are the ones in charge of this country.
The author has worked on numerous statewide political campaigns in Virginia, South Dakota and Washington, D.C. His work has appeared in The Federalist, The Daily Caller and other sites. He currently resides in the Washington, D.C. area. Follow him on Twitter @PHGuthrie