Trump denies, Obama delays and the media enables in the face of unprecedented attacks on U.S. democracy.
OCT 12, 2016
Our democracy is under attack by Russia, but almost no one is treating the situation with the gravity it deserves. President Obama is loathe to retaliate. Would-be president Donald Trump denies that any attack is happening. And the media are acting as enablers for the attackers.
The first shots were fired in June when two groups of hackers, known as Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear, penetrated the Democratic National Committee’s computers. On July 22, on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, accused rapistJulian Assange’s Wikileaks began publishing the trove of 20,000 stolen emails. The embarrassing revelations about DNC bias against Bernie Sanders forced the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz as DNC chairman. U.S. intelligence and private security experts immediately identified Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear as fronts for the FSB and the GRU, the two Russian intelligence agencies, and Wikileaks as a bulletin board for them. Yet the press corps seemed to treat the content of the emails as bigger news than they way they had been revealed.
Further hacks followed with the victims including former Secretary of State Colin Powell; his emails produced stories about his negative views of both Trump and Hillary Clinton. Yet it took until Oct. 7 for the U.S. intelligence community to publicly confirm that the culprits were Russian hackers operating with the sanction of “Russia’s senior-most officials” and that their goal was “to interfere with the U.S. election process.”
Even as the U.S. government was unmasking the perpetrators in the earlier attacks, a new assault was beginning. On Friday, the very same day that The Washington Post released a blockbuster video of Trump discussing his proclivity for sexual assault, Wikileaks began releasing another trove of thousands of emailsstolen from the Gmail account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Gullible reporters rushed to write breathless articles about the “revelations” that were “leaked” by “Wikileaks.” It would be more accurate, as Podesta himself pointed out, to say that these documents were stolen by Russian intelligence and released in an unsuccessful gambit to distract attention from the embarrassing Trump video.
Yet no amount of evidence will convince Trump of Russia’s culpability. In the first presidential debate, he said: “It could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.” In the second debate, he seemed to suggest that maybe there hadn’t been any hack at all, saying Clinton “doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking. But they always blame Russia. And the reason they blame Russia because they think they’re trying to tarnish me with Russia.”
Given that intelligence officers had briefed Trump on their “high confidence” findings, a senior intelligence official told NBC News: “To profess not to know at this point is willful misrepresentation.”
But Trump is guilty of more than simply denying reality. He is actively encouraging and celebrating the Kremlin’s attacks. In July, the GOP candidate actually invited Russia to hack Clinton’s emails. More recently he has professed his “love” for Wikileaks and has eagerly touted its revelations, however banal. After one email revealed perfunctory and proper contacts between the Clinton campaign and the Justice Department over the scheduling of a public court hearing, Trump tweeted breathlessly: “Wow. Unbelievable.”
So eager is Trump to promote Wikileaks that he recounted to a Pennsylvania rally an email that supposedly came from Clinton family friend Sidney Blumenthal — Trump called him “Sleazy Sidney” — suggesting that GOP attacks on Hillary Clinton for her handling of Benghazi were a “legitimate” issue. There is only one problem: The sentences attributed to Blumenthal were actually written by Newsweek reporter Kurt Eichenwald. The sleight-of-hand was the work of Sputnik, a Kremlin-run news service. So Trump is aiding the Kremlin’s disinformation efforts.
While Trump is sympathetic to America’s enemies, Obama has not done nearly enough to make them pay a price for their attacks. There has been no retaliation at all, apparently for fear of starting a cyberwar, although the White House promises “proportional” retaliation will arrive eventually. The range of options is vast, ranging from tougher economic sanctions on Russia to criminal indictments of Russian hackers to cyber attacks on Russian officials. How would Putin and his cronies like to see their emails published for the whole world to read?
This is an unprecedented attack on the fabric of American democracy designed either to elect Donald Trump — the most pro-Russian presidential candidate in history — or simply to sow confusion and doubt about the legitimacy of our political system. Either way, the Kremlin wins. Obama needs to make clear to Putin that he will pay a very high price for what he is doing. And voters need to reject the Kremlin’s comrade on Nov. 8.