Early Monday morning, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted this:
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
Clearly, Trump is operating under the Fox News rules for reporting, which includes blurting verifiably false information under the assumption that the target audience believes everything it hears from “friendly” sources and therefore won’t bother to do a simple Google search for all pre-election reporting on, in this case, the Russian hacking bombshell.
This amazingly shocking story was initially reported in July, a story that Chez Pazienza and I called the biggest political story of our lifetimes, and, in a sane world, it would’ve made banner headline news from that moment forward. Any allegations that a hostile foreign regime was attempting to hijack what turned out to be the most pivotal election in recent memory should’ve been met with ongoing, wall-to-wall coverage, tossed with plenty of accompanying outrage, and, ultimately, sanctions issued accordingly to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Instead, it was reported then buried under the spectacle of the convention coverage and Trump’s unforgivable reaction to a gold star family.
So, it’s no wonder Trump is exploiting the short-attention span of American voters and the complicit, normalizing news media. If it gives his base more ammunition, while injecting reasonable doubt into the discourse — advantage Trump.
Let’s review a critical event in the story that directly addresses Trump’s Monday morning tweet.
During a midday news conference on Wednesday, July 27, Trump was asked about growing linkage between himself, Vladimir Putin and the tranche of leaked DNC emails mysteriously released by Wikileaks the previous week. In response, Trump said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” He continued, “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Contrary to what Trump tweeted, not only was the Russia story major news prior to the election, but he personally asked Russia to keep doing what they were doing… twice!
Trump followed his press conference remarks by retreating to his Twitter account and posting this: “If Russia or any other country or person has Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 illegally deleted emails, perhaps they should share them with the FBI!”
At the very worst, this was a treasonous act. This sentence, “I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” directly suggests that Russia should actively attack an American cyber target. At the very minimum, Trump explicitly hoped for the Putin regime to have infiltrated Hillary’s home-brew server, along with U.S. State Department communiques, in order to politically benefit his campaign. At any point along this spectrum of guilt, Trump has to be regarded as completely reckless and terrifyingly irresponsible.
Again, no candidate for public office should be speaking this way and, in fact, if Trump was merely joking as his cheerleaders on Fox News were suggesting, it makes his statements even more irresponsible. And if he was joking, should a serious then-contender for the presidency be joking (badly) about allowing Russian cyber-attacks to occur in the name of helping him win? Not a chance in hell.
Furthermore, 1) cyber-espionage against the State Department isn’t zinger material, and 2) I don’t think he was joking.
Now, regarding his completely misinformed assertion that we can’t possibly know who’s responsible for the attacks because we didn’t catch the culprits in the act, all we have to do is revisit what was reported in July. According to investigative journalists at Vice’s “Motherboard,” a security firm hired by the DNC discovered the existence of “two sophisticated adversaries” that had infiltrated the Democratic Party’s internal email network. Known as “APT 28″ and “APT 29,” the handles are used by both the Russian intelligence service, the FSB (formerly the KGB) and the Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU. Later, using a front handle known as the aforementioned “Guccifer 2.0,” the agencies announced back in June that it had given Wikileaks “thousands of files and mails.”
While it’s often challenging to whittle the investigation down to specific persons, there are numerous ways to follow the chain of evidence back far enough to get a strong idea of who might be responsible. Regarding Trump’s assertion about only catching hackers in the act, intelligence experts are calling bullshit…
“That’s just silly,” laughed John Schindler, who worked for 10 years as an analyst at the National Security Agency. “That is just simply false.”
But we’re supposed to believe Trump’s analysis knowing that he continues to refer to internet security issues as “the cyber.” It’s a fair guess that Trump knows about as much about how the internet works as any 70-year-old man. Which is to say very little.
Nevertheless, if Friday’s earth-shattering story in The Washington Post is confirmed by investigators (hopefully there will be investigators), our democracy has been badly wounded and currently resides in critical condition. If this is allowed to pass without accountability, regardless of whether Trump is a conspirator, we can only proceed knowing that our elections no longer represent the will of the people but, instead, the will of hostile governments. Next time, it could be the Republicans who are flummoxed by Russia. The time after that, perhaps China gets into the act. Meanwhile, we have no idea who voted or whom we voted for because paper-trails seldom exist and auditing the vote is obviously a waste of time.
American democracy is hanging in the balance. And the incoming leadership is willing to let it slide as long as their team is in charge. It’s difficult to see the United States fully recovering from this one. Trump isn’t just abnormal, his actions and his very existence as president-elect is causing irreparable damage.