The Wikileaks release during the 2016 campaign of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton family retainer John Podesta were harmful to Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign. This was not so true because new facets of Hillary Clinton and her political operation were revealed but because old and well-known faults of hers were confirmed and brought once again to the fore. Other damaging emails of Hillary Clinton’s associates, it must be remembered, were released, not by Wikileaks, but by the State Department and leaked from other sources, only in response to the discovery that she had maintained a private email server and deleted tens of thousands of emails from it.
This past weekend a report by the CIA to the President on its conclusions about the hacked emails was leaked to multiple news outlets. (This, we are supposed to understand, is a “good” leak of classified information, as opposed to the bad leaks being investigated.) The conclusion of the report, we are told, is that the Russians intervened in the election to try to help Donald Trump. It’s important to note that is actually three separate conclusions: First that the hacking and leaking was a Russian intervention and second, that they did it to help him. The third conclusion, unspoken but implied by reporters and tut-tutting commentators, is that the leaks caused Trump’s election, rendering it thereby delegitimized.
The first conclusion is an opinion, based upon technological facts about the hacking, that it is Russian in origin. Assuming the facts are substantial enough to support it and that the analysis was made in good faith, I have no particular problem with the first conclusion, that the Russian government hacked the emails. If that is so, there should be official retaliatory sanctions against Russia painful enough to deter future repetition. An unofficial sanction reportedly considered is hacking offshore accounts of Putin and his allies and public release and distribution in Russia of their contents with enough detail to prove them.
The reaction to any Russian hacking, especially for purposes of intervention in our elections, should be outrage by Americans of either party together with a firm resolution to do something effective about it. Republicans should respond the same way they would if Donald Trump’s emails had been hacked. In addition to sanctions, both public and private holders of email should do as much about cybersecurity as everyone seems to talk about it.
The second conclusion, that the Russians hacked and leaked to help the Trump campaign, is entirely an opinion based upon conclusions of CIA analysts. It does not seem an unreasonable conclusion on its face, although the FBI is not persuaded to the same conclusion.
After all, why else would the Russians hack and leak the information harmful to Clinton? Well, it might be that the Russians had no more political acuity than most American observers (including this writer) and fully expected Clinton to be elected. They might well have preferred her elected under a cloud facing possible impeachment. Imagine a KGB officer called on the carpet the morning after the election: “You idiot! You got Trump elected!”
Supposedly, the report says that the Republican National Committee was also hacked, but their emails were never released, so why not? First, Chairman Reince Priebus insists their emails were not hacked and we don’t know what facts the CIA has to support that conclusion. Second, maybe the Republican emails were just not interesting.
The third conclusion, unspoken but implied, is the reason the first two are so ballyhooed. At the time the hacked emails were released, it was widely put about that the Russians were involved. That a CIA report putting this on paper is big news now is of a piece with the Green Party’s efforts to assert that there may have been hacking affecting the actual tally of votes. There is no evidence – none – that such hacking was attempted, let alone even marginally successful.
It is all an effort to suggest something illegitimate about the Trump upset victory.
The combined efforts of the left and part of its media machine to conflate the three conclusions – one likely, one possible, but neither undermining Trump’s election, and an unspoken third, utterly unsupported – is a trap into which Donald Trump quickly fell.
Trump characteristically quickly and combatively dismissed the entire report with the observation that this was the outfit that said there were weapons of mass destruction. The media gleefully wondered how Trump could work with our intelligence agencies for which he had so little respect.
Our intelligence services have made mistakes over the decades and it is no disrespect to point them out – not just weapons in Iraq but failure to spot the fall of the Soviet Union and or, in 1962, missiles in Cuba until the last minute come to mind.
Trump should have said he would be outraged if the Russians acted to affect our election – even if they acted to elect the better candidate – and would support firm action in response. He has since retreated to saying he just doesn’t know himself at this point whether the Russians were involved.
For all the media furor, any effect of the leaks came not from the fact of the leaks but from their truths about Clinton reinforced. The information in the leaked emails could have been obtained by the media from other sources. The media utterly failed in their own function, some because of incompetence and some perhaps because of their own desire to affect the outcome of the election.