Things are developing on a daily basis with PEOTUS. On Friday, the Washington Post published an article about how a CIA assessment made clear that Russia not only interfered with the election, but did so to help Trump win. On Sunday, Trump was interviewed by Fox News, and during that interview he denied the CIA’s findings.
Of course, he’s supplemented that interview with the following tweets:
Can you imagine if the election results were the opposite and WE tried to play the Russia/CIA card. It would be called conspiracy theory!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2016
Unless you catch “hackers” in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking. Why wasn’t this brought up before election?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2016
In a statement released on Friday Trump’s transition team also had this to say:
“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.'”
This is not entirely new news. On October 31, 2016, the New York Times published an article about the FBI investigation into interference with Russia. That article stated that FBI investigators “have become increasingly confident, based on the evidence they have uncovered, that Russia’s direct goal is not to support the election of Mr. Trump, as many Democrats have asserted, but rather to disrupt the integrity of the political system and undermine America’s standing in the world more broadly.”
The CIA assessment goes further, and states that they have identified individuals who are closely connected to the Russian government, and these individuals provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from Democrats, including from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta (remember him from #Pizzagate?). The CIA has reported that it is now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal.
President Obama has ordered a full review and report on the issue, and wants the report before he transitions out of office on January 20, 2017.
What Does this Mean?
The CIA report is classified and has not been made public. It’s hard to understand the extent to which hacking impacted the election. I have not seen any reputable news source stating that Russia was able to actually infiltrate any voting machines. Instead, credible news sources state that individuals connected to the Russian government hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s emails with the intent to support Trump in the election. Notably, the New York Times states that Russian hackers also hacked the Republican National Committee’s emails but did not release any of those documents.
This means that there is a foreign government directly interfering with our elections and backing a leader it believes will be most beneficial. This type of interference is unprecedented in our democracy.
Why Does it Matter?
You might be asking yourself why it matters that Russia cares about U.S. politics, and you might even be asking why Russia is so bad. It’s not just because its leader likes to run around looking like this:
Vladimir Putin is the President of Russia. He was a member of the KGB, Russia’s intelligence agency, before getting involved in politics in the 1990s. His policies on international intervention are broad and militaristic. In the past few years, he has ordered Russian troops to seize Crimea from the Ukraine, has authorized Russian military intervention in the Syrian Civil War, and is actively working to increase its nuclear weapons capabilities. Let’s also not forget that Russia intervened in Chechnya’s war several years ago, and in the process committed dozens of war crimes against Chechens.
Putin has enacted many restrictive human rights policies during his time as president. For example, to name a few: (1) Russia is ranked 148 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom index, which ranks countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists; (2) there have been multiple allegations of torture and abuse, despite the fact that the Constitution of Russia forbids it; (3) the rise of xenophobia, racism, and nationalism; (4) the June 2013 ban of “propaganda” relating to LGBT relationships; (5) the June 2013 law banning adoption of Russian children by foreign same-sex couples; and (6) the rise in human trafficking out of Russia.
UPDATE: I missed a very important part of why it matters that Russia is meddling in our democratic system. This is not the first time Russia has interfered with elections in foreign countries. Many believe that Russian presence on social media impacted Brexit. The Foreign Policy Initiative held a conference call on this very subject this summer, during which it provided evidence that Russia has provided support for Marine Le Pen, the president of the National Front, a conservative political party in France. Russia has also been accused of influencing elections in Estonia and the Ukraine.
- To undermine citizen confidence in democratic governance;
- To foment and exacerbate divisive political fractures;
- To erode trust between citizens and elected officials and democratic institutions;
- To popularize Russian policy agendas within foreign populations; and
- To create general distrust or confusion over information sources by blurring the lines between fact and fiction.
Russia does this to weaken their opponents. They’re bragging about it:
— Evan O’Connell (@evanoconnell) November 14, 2016
Aleksandr Dugin is an advisor to Putin, and is a lead theorist of the underpinnings of Putinism. He has been likened to Trump’s adviser, Steve Bannon, in terms of his influence and role. Russia is celebrating, and we’re the losers.
What are People Doing About it?
I previously posted about the legal efforts underway to stop Trump from taking office in January. Those efforts are growing, in part in response to the CIA’s assessment. There is a movement to brief the electors of the Electoral College on the CIA’s findings before they cast their votes on December 19, 2016. Ten electors have explicitly asked for a briefing on the issue, and there is support from Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Russia’s involvement in the election may weigh in as a factor when the electors make their decisions.
UPDATE: The number has now grown to 40 electors who would like to receive a briefing on Russian involvement before the Electoral College votes. Additionally, there is now support for pushing back the date of the Electoral College vote to accommodate such a briefing:
The Dec 19 date for the Electoral College to vote isn’t set in constitutional stone. Congress set that date. Congress can easily change it.
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) December 12, 2016
There is also a new movement in support of directly invalidating the election. Again, I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but the legal basis for this course of action seems tenuous, and invalidating an election, without evidence of actual hacking of voting machines, would be a huge blow to democracy. At this point, it seems that unless some of the electors of the Electoral College vote against Trump, it is still unlikely that a legal movement will stop Trump from taking office.
It seems insane to be talking about Russian interference in this day and age, but this is real. This is not a conspiracy theory, and has been verified by individuals in the highest levels of their respective agencies. We may never know the extent of the interference, at least until the CIA report becomes unclassified. However, we should be very concerned that our president-elect sees no problem with this, especially in the face of bi-partisan support for investigating the issue. Our democracy is only as strong as the people who protect it, and interference from foreign governments into our electoral process is about as big a hit to democracy as there is.