The CIA’s claim that Russia sought to help Trump
Senior Republican and Democratic lawmakers joined President Obama in demanding an investigation into Russian hacking this week, after CIA officials told Congress that Moscow deliberately tried to use hacked emails to tilt the presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor. Intelligence agencies previously said the release of emails—stolen from Democratic National Committee members, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, and other Democrats—was motivated by Russia’s desire to undermine the public’s faith in the U.S. electoral system. But in a briefing with Congress, the CIA said that it now has “high confidence” that hackers working for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime gave the emails to WikiLeaks to hurt Clinton and help Trump, and may even have refrained from releasing documents hacked from Republican officials and allies. The FBI—which is trained to meet a higher burden of proof in criminal courts—told Congress it was still uncertain of Russia’s goals in the hacking.
Obama ordered his intelligence agencies to conduct a “full review” of the issue, to be completed before he leaves office. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan gave their support to a congressional investigation. Trump, who has advocated better relations with Russia, dismissed the CIA claims as “ridiculous” and “just another excuse” for the Democrats’ defeat. His transition team mocked the CIA as “the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”
Questions about the president-elect’s ties with Russia were heightened when he nominated Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state. The oil executive has worked extensively with Putin to conduct oil exploration in Russia, opposed the West’s economic sanctions on Moscow, and received the Kremlin’s highest civilian honor. Trump praised the oil executive’s “deep understanding of geopolitics,” saying, “His relationships with leaders all over the world are second to none.”
What the editorials said
“Somewhere in the Kremlin Vladimir Putin must be laughing,” said The Wall Street Journal. The Russian strongman wanted to undermine confidence in American democracy—and the Obama administration is “playing into his hands.” The CIA’s evidence for its bombshell conclusion is “far from definitive.” But Democrats “want to add the Kremlin to FBI Director James Comey, fake news, and the Electoral College as excuses that cast doubt on the legitimacy of Trump’s victory.”
Trump has every right to “defend the legitimacy of his election,” said the Los Angeles Times. But he’s “in denial” that Russia hacked the Democrats’ emails and why, because it wounds his vanity. Americans deserve to know the truth. The president-elect should also stop expressing “open contempt” for the intelligence agencies he will soon rely on.
Trump hasn’t helped himself by choosing Tillerson as his top diplomat, said The New York Times. The oil executive’s close ties to Russia will ensure that “every decision or action will be tainted by suspicion that he’s capitulating to Russian interests or those of the oil industry.” The president-elect’s flagrant ignorance of national security issues makes it “especially risky” to nominate someone whose entire career has been devoted to oil exploration and “corporate deal making.”
What the columnists said
With Trump and Russia, “the election hacking may be only the tip of the iceberg,” said Defense Department official Evelyn Farkas in Politico.com. The president-elect has significant financial interests in Russia, and may be indebted to Russian banks and Kremlincontrolled oligarchs. The Russians have publicly stated they were in contact with Trump’s campaign leading up to the election. The only way Trump can prove he isn’t Putin’s “puppet,” or at least vulnerable to blackmail and bribery, is to release his tax returns and full financial records.
The Trump tilt toward Moscow reflects a fundamental change in Republican policy, said Peter Beinart in TheAtlantic.com. Conservatives used to “loathe” Russia and the “authoritarian challenge” it poses to democracy and freedom. But now many influential Trump aides, including Trump chief strategist Stephen Bannon and national security adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, see the spread of radical Islam as a bigger threat to Western civilization. They’re willing to overlook Putin’s dictatorial sins because they see his nationalist, anti-liberal regime as a natural ally—“Christianity’s front line”— against Islam.
Trump deserves a chance to forge a new Russia strategy, said Leonid Bershidsky in BloombergView.com. Obama’s “toothless” approach emboldened Putin to invade Ukraine and become a major player in Syria, and his subsequent attempt to isolate Russia has failed to deter Putin’s aggression. It’s time to try something different. Tillerson, a man who knows “how business is done in today’s Russia,” might be able to cut deals that serve both countries’ interests.
Whatever his motives in his outreach to Russia, Trump will probably end up disappointed, said Noah Rothman in CommentaryMagazine.com. Both Obama and President George W. Bush came into power hoping for a “grand rapprochement” with Putin. But they were quickly disabused of this notion by the “stubborn realities of the Russo-American dynamic.”Russia and the U.S. clash because they fundamentally “define their interests in opposition to one another.” That won’t change, whoever’s in the Oval Office.
Trump’s selection of Tillerson was “a dare to Senate Republicans,” said Burgess Everett in Politico.com. If 48 Senate Democrats unite to vote against the Exxon Mobil chief’s nomination, it would take only three Republican defections to “sink him.” A trio of prominent Republican senators— Marco Rubio, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham—expressed concerns over Tillerson’s links with Russia, with Graham saying, “The U.S.-Russian relationship will be front and center in his confirmation process.” Still, the GOP will be very reluctant to “antagonize” the president-elect, “given the close cooperation with him that repealing Obamacare and reforming the tax code will require.” That means Sens. McCain, Rubio, and Graham will have to back down, or ignite open warfare with the new administration