Before reviewing the latest developments in this fascinating saga, let’s take a moment to get our minds around the narrative the American public is being asked to swallow regarding the supposed Russian attempt to throw the U.S. election to Donald Trump.
I mentioned how absurd the premise of this narrative is in my earlier piece from the weekend. But I want to really highlight it in its stark idiocy, so no one will miss the pointlessness of continuing to pursue it.
We’re being asked to believe that the Russians are so stupid, they think they could somehow win the election for Trump by exposing the Hillary campaign’s emails, and the emails of other Democrats, through WikiLeaks, in the last weeks before voting day.
The Russians, it is suggested, thought this would be an effective strategy for getting Trump elected.
Are you understanding this yet? Would anyone on Planet Earth think that strategy could achieve the goal the Russians were supposedly after?
It’s not just that there’s no way to trace how a “Russian intervention” by this method could have swayed the vote. It’s that no one would be stupid enough to waste time trying to “win the election for Trump” this way. The narrative makes no sense.
The earlier theory that the Russians were trying to make Americans lose confidence in our political system might have held a little more water. Might have; although there, too, the connection between the strategy and the goal was awfully tenuous.
No one should doubt the reality of Russia’s commitment to “active measures,” such as introducing confusion and doubt with propaganda and media themes. But a form of atmospheric influence like exposing politicians’ embarrassing emails would be a very long-term measure: something like a Chinese water-torture method of attacking the American psyche over a period of years, if not decades. The method might serve as a collateral line of effort, but it would have no hope of achieving a rapid, decisive result in one election cycle.
That said, the earlier “loss of confidence” theory at least had the virtue of not being demented.
Before summarizing the latest developments, it’s also worth noting that Americans had a bellyful of Hillary Clinton’s emails — the ones from her home-brew server — to paw through during the primaries, and she still won the Democratic nomination. Not only that: after months of damaging revelations about those emails, long before the WikiLeaks dumps, she still got over 62.5 million popular votes.
Trump won in the electoral college because of a profound geographic and demographic divide in the nation’s political sentiments — not because of one set of uniformly effective influences on the vote across the nation. Moreover, the likelihood that that’s how he would have to win was clear from the outset.
I credit the Russians with more intelligence than to think that dumping some additional emails at the last minute could hand Trump a win.
And that goes to the credibility of identifying that as a motive for Russia. So it’s especially noteworthy that officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) told Reuters reporters on Monday that they haven’t endorsed the CIA assessment on this, precisely because they don’t see evidence of the imputed motive.
“ODNI is not arguing that the agency (CIA) is wrong, only that they can’t prove intent,” said one of the three U.S. officials. “Of course they can’t, absent agents in on the decision-making in Moscow.”
As Reuters notes, the FBI has also declined to accept the CIA assessment.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose evidentiary standards require it to make cases that can stand up in court, declined to accept the CIA’s analysis – a deductive assessment of the available intelligence – for the same reason, the three officials said.
Which tracks, again, with the analysis I posted on Saturday.
However, GOP leaders in Congress have jumped in to back CIA, at least partly, it seems, as a tacit rebuke to Donald Trump for not taking the CIA assessment seriously.
I assume Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan think they’re playing the part of the adults in the room, in backing the CIA’s “diligent work” and professionalism. But, speaking as a career intelligence professional, I have to say that the assessment CIA has reportedly given is not professional. It draws an unwarranted conclusion about something CIA can’t reasonably have good evidence of — that is, the motive the Russians supposedly had of getting Trump elected.
At most, Trump might have phrased his skepticism about all this more diplomatically. But with the CIA stepping so far out of its own standards of professional rigor, I don’t see it as “adult” of McConnell and Ryan to make pro forma endorsements for endorsement’s sake. It just looks like they’re fussing with paperwork while someone else drives the train.
Reporting from Sunday that John Bolton thought the evidence-free CIA assessment was part of a “false flag” effort involving Obama seems to have been overblown. But if we look at the CIA assessment itself, it’s interesting that the main beneficiary of it is Democrats who might want to foster a narrative that Trump’s presidency is illegitimate.
That leads us to the report on Monday that a group of electors has requested a briefing from DNI James Clapper on the CIA assessment. Frankly, looking at the letter signed by the electors, I would have to guess they had a lot of help from a Soros-funded organization in writing it.
The Clinton campaign is reportedly supporting their request. The appearance of orchestration is striking in this whole serial drama. And it all revolves around a premise so preposterous that Trump comes off as saner than anyone else, for having the crust to simply dismiss it out of hand.