“The CIA has concluded, in a secret assessment,” the very top of the front page of my Washington Post informed me, yesterday, “that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to the officials briefed on the matter.”
I did a double take. This assessment was “secret”?
Do they mean as secret as the news scroll in Times Square? As silent as the faint whisper of a thousand bullhorns?
Printing a story on the front page can lead to many outcomes. Secrecy isn’t one of them.
Then, what happened, undoubtedly, is obvious: America’s top spies have chosen me — seasoned newspaper reader and your admired, if not beloved, Townhall columnist — to be the one person in the know. Every one of the other six million souls in the greater metropolitan Washington, DC, area must have received a newspaper with a different front-page story.
“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here,” my special report goes on to relate, “was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected” — at least according to the “senior U.S. official” quoted by the Post, who had been “briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators.”
Who are these senior officials? That is secret. Even from this trusted columnist.
I guess we could be talking about elderly government employees who have a friend who has a friend — since the officials and their positions in the government are unknown, and they were at best briefed about a briefing.
But for certain — according to people who were told by the people who were told about the secrets we cannot be told about — that it is “quite clear” that the Russian motive was to elect Trump. And please note that that clarity is a direct quote . . . from an anonymous source.
Just so you know this isn’t fake news.
Turns out, the CIA-conducted download to U.S. senators last week “fell short of a formal U.S. assessment produced by all 17 intelligence agencies.” Reportedly, “there were minor disagreements.”
(As an aside: doesn’t it seem unintelligent to have 17 different intelligence agencies?)
The New York Times echoed the Post. “American intelligence agencies have concluded with ‘high confidence’ that Russia acted covertly in the latter stages of the presidential campaign to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances and promote Donald J. Trump, according to senior administration officials.”
The Times also related that its sources expressed “high confidence” that “the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems in addition to their attacks on Democratic organizations, but did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks.”
You know, the more I read that the intelligence folks have “high confidence” in their conclusions, the less confidence those conclusions inspire.
For the record, RNC officials have claimed the organization itself has not been hacked, while some of the party’s individual hacks have been.
“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” jabbed a rapidly released statement from the Trump camp. “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.’”
No doubt, we ought maintain a healthy skepticism about such intelligence assessments. Yet, just for the record, the election was only a month ago, which, in my book, is not such “a long time ago.” And technically, Mr. Trump’s Electoral College victory has not happened yet; the electors cast their ballots on the 19th.
Moreover, if Trump does receive the 306 electoral votes from all the states in which he won either a majority or a plurality of the vote, his victory will hardly constitute “one of the biggest . . . in history.” In fact, 45 of the 58 presidential elections in our history have seen a larger margin of victory in the Electoral College than did Mr. Trump’s recent triumph — including both of Barack Obama’s wins.
Why fudge facts? A win is a win.
Or is it?
Following the reports in the Post and Times, Robert Baer, a former CIA operative, told CNN: “The Electoral College, before the 19th, has got to know whether the Russians had an effect, whether they went to WikiLeaks, whether they hacked email and whether they affected American opinion. . . . I’m deeply disturbed by the fact that the Russians interfered. And I would like to see the evidence, because if the evidence is there, I don’t see any other way than to vote again.”
Notice that he refers to the Russian interference as a “fact” before he says he’d like to see the evidence. Many would reverse that order.
Baer noted he was not an attorney, which is good, because no clause in our national legal framework deals with holding a new election if the Russians or Chinese or terrorists or network TV anchors mislead the electorate.
“I’ll be the first one to come out and point at Russia if there’s clear evidence,” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), “but there is no clear evidence — even now. There’s a lot of innuendo, lots of circumstantial evidence, that’s it.” Nunes chairs the House Intelligence Committee and also serves on Mr. Trump’s transition team.
The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, has been one not to blame congressional Republicans. “The administration has all the tools it needs to respond,” he explained. “The administration has decided not to utilize them in a way that would deter the Russians, and I think that’s a problem.”
But President Obama has not done nothing. He has ordered a report, which he hopes to see on his desk before he leaves office.
I have a high level of confidence that Mr. Obama will be leaving office in January — regardless of what nefarious Russian machinations that report details.