The pres­i­dent-elect’s strange de­fense of Rus­sia

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE - By Eu­gene Robin­son

ood lord. We are about to in­au­gu­rate as pres­i­dent a man whose elec­tion, ac­cord­ing to the CIA, was aided by a Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tion. Try as we might, we can­not pre­tend this didn’t hap­pen.

We can’t ig­nore out­ra­geous in­ter­fer­ence by an ad­ver­sar­ial for­eign power be­cause Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s ac­tions ques­tion his own le­git­i­macy, or at least his fit­ness to hold the nation’s high­est of­fice, vir­tu­ally every day.

He jets around the coun­try hold­ing adu­la­tory vic­tory ral­lies in the man­ner of an au­thor­i­tar­ian strong­man, preen­ing like some lat­ter-day Juan Peron. Does this worry you? It wor­ries me.

He can’t be both­ered to sit through the reg­u­lar in­tel­li­gence brief­ings that have been a vi­tal part of every mod­ern pres­i­dent’s job. “I’m, like, a smart per­son,” he ex­plained Sun­day. Are you re­as­sured? I’m not.

The most rel­e­vant qual­i­fi­ca­tion of his choice for sec­re­tary of state — Exxon Mo­bil chief ex­ec­u­tive Rex Tiller­son — seems to be his long and cozy friend­ship with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. Does that sound like a good idea to you? It doesn’t to me.

The pres­i­dent-elect ap­pears to be as­sem­bling not a gov­ern­ment but an anti-gov­ern­ment. He said Sun­day that “no­body re­ally knows” whether cli­mate change is real, though 97 per­cent of cli­mate sci­en­tists say it def­i­nitely is, and he in­tends to ap­point a fer­vid skep­tic as ad­min­is­tra­tor of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency. He seeks to in­stall a la­bor sec­re­tary who does not be­lieve there should be a min­i­mum-wage in­crease, an ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary who shows lit­tle or no com­mit­ment to pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, and a hous­ing sec­re­tary whose only rel­e­vant ex­pe­ri­ence is having lived in houses. Is this a recipe for Amer­i­can great­ness? Or for in­com­pe­tence and fail­ure?

Now we have the CIA’s con­clu­sion of Rus­sian med­dling on Trump’s be­half. “I think it’s ridicu­lous,” Trump said in an in­ter­view with “Fox News Sun­day.” But what about this weird and dis­turb­ing tran­si­tion has not been ridicu­lous?

Trump notes that the CIA is hardly in­fal­li­ble, cit­ing its flat-wrong con­clu­sion that Sad­dam Hus­sein had weapons of mass de­struc­tion. He has a point. But there is lit­tle or no dis­pute within the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity that op­er­a­tives linked to the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment tried, at the very least, to sow doubt about the U.S. elec­toral process.

To that end, the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment directed the hack­ing of e-mails to and from Demo­cratic Party or­ga­ni­za­tions and Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign chair­man, John Podesta, and then se­lec­tively dis­sem­i­nated this ma­te­rial through Wik­iLeaks and other out­lets. The Depart­ment of Home­land Security and the Of­fice of the Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence reached that con­clu­sion months ago, and said so in a pub­lic state­ment on Oct. 7.

The only real ques­tion is whether Rus­sia’s aim went be­yond cre­at­ing con­fu­sion to ac­tu­ally help­ing elect a spe­cific can­di­date: Don­ald Trump.

The CIA says yes. The FBI is re­port­edly un­con­vinced.

Pres­i­dent Obama has or­dered a full re­view that could set­tle the dis­pute, with a fi­nal re­port to be pre­sented be­fore he leaves of­fice. Why wasn’t this in­ves­ti­ga­tion or­dered be­fore the elec­tion, since the fact of Rus­sian hack­ing was known in Oc­to­ber? Good ques­tion. Per­haps Obama wor­ried about the per­cep­tion that he was us­ing the tools of state power to in­flu­ence vot­ers.

Putin ap­par­ently had no such qualms.

The hack­ing, af­ter all, was aimed at Democrats and their party in­sti­tu­tions. If the Rus­sians’ goal was sim­ply to un­der­mine con­fi­dence in the po­lit­i­cal process, surely there would have been em­bar­rass­ing re­leases of Republican e-mails as well.

Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell con­firmed Mon­day that there will also be a Se­nate in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The start­ing point for both in­quiries is that the aim is not to chal­lenge the le­git­i­macy of Trump’s vic­tory. But just such a chal­lenge may be the in­evitable re­sult.

Af­ter all, this was a very close elec­tion. Clin­ton won at least 2.8 mil­lion more votes than Trump; she lost in the elec­toral tally be­cause Trump nar­rowly won Rust Belt states that were thought to be Demo­cratic strongholds. Would she have won if she had spent more time in Wis­con­sin, Michi­gan and Penn­syl­va­nia? Did the last-minute in­ter­ven­tion by FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey tip the bal­ance? Did she lose be­cause of the orig­i­nal sin of con­duct­ing State Depart­ment busi­ness on a pri­vate e-mail server?

Maybe, maybe, maybe. But also: Maybe she would have won if Rus­sia hadn’t been avidly help­ing her op­po­nent. Our pres­i­dent is sup­posed to be cho­sen in polling places across the United States — not be­hind the im­pos­ing walls of the Krem­lin. E-mail Eu­gene Robin­son at eu­gen­er­obin­son@wash­post.com.

A woman waits for Republican pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump to speak at a Feb. 7 cam­paign event in Ply­mouth, N.H. As­so­ci­ated Press file

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