I think it was Russia.”
There, he said it. We’re not impressed.
For the first time, during his first press conference in almost half a year, President-elect Donald Trump acknowledged, snappish, grudging, that Russia was responsible for hacking both the Democratic and Republican parties during the fractious presidential campaign.
U.S. intelligence agencies resolutely reached that conclusion ages ago: Russia “demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity and scope of effort compared to previous operations,” says an intelligence report on Vladimir Putin’s cyber-meddling.
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But Trump gave intelligence the back of his hand, vilified it and undercut the very agencies that he and the rest of Americans rely upon to keep this nation secure, if indeed that is the president-elect’s intent.
On the eve of his ascension to the presidency, Trump has yet to acknowledge that this nation needs him to be president, the leader of the free world, not a prickly, pouting Putin panderer.
Americans needed to hear from Trump that he would stand resolutely against such dangerous interference wherever it came from. Instead, they got, “I think it was Russia” and Putin “shouldn’t have done it.” Dangerously tepid and unreassuring — and similarly as lame as President Obama’s initial “Cut it out.”
To be clear, the United States needs, if not friendly, then cordial relations with Russia. There are issues over which we need to come to consensus, deescalating the Putin-fueled destruction in Syria, for instance. But the Trump-Putin bromance has been disturbing ever since candidate Trump unpatriotically praised the Russian leader as a way to besmirch Obama.
Trump, again, saved his outrage for a second intelligence report, that he, too, was the target of Russia’s snooping during the campaign. There are unverified, but credible, intelligence reports that Russia, looking like it was playing both sides during the U.S. presidential race, has salacious information on Trump, allegations he denied.
Trump, in an over-the-top tirade, accused intelligence agencies of trafficking in “fake news” and using the tactics of Nazi Germany — and called out CNN for reporting parts of it. (Of course, Trump used fake news and the politics of intolerance to propel him to the Oval Office, but we’ll stick to our main point.)
His hostility also calls into question whether the second report, uncorroborated, but presented in detail by BuzzFeed nonetheless, is the intelligence community’s own bit of payback, which, too, would be disturbing. The president and intelligence need to be, fundamentally, on the same side.
Trump should be clamoring for investigations to get to the bottom of Russia’s hacking, backing up Obama’s sanctions and, yes, demanding that allegations of his campaign surrogates meeting with Russian operatives be verified — proving Putin is his manipulator, not his friend — or put to rest. But instead he’s slamming intelligence again and, as bad, backing up the Kremlin’s denials of any nefarious deeds.
It’s appalling that Americans must wonder where the greatest danger to their security lies: In Russia’s interference in our democratic processes on behalf of its preferred presidential candidate, or in the president-elect’s obvious acceptance of it.
His failure to call out Vladimir Putin beyond, “He shouldn’t have done it,” in truth gives his Russian buddy his tacit approval: “I’ve got your back, dude.”
But does Trump have ours?