Well, Donald Trump finally had the sit-down with intelligence officials who, presumably, explained to him why they think Russia engaged in targeted hacks in an attempt to influence the 2016 election. The speed and calculation of his response invites skepticism – a prepared statement was issued just minutes after he left the meeting, which suggests Trump went in knowing what he was going to think.
Still, the statement itself bears dissection:
“I had a constructive meeting and conversation with the leaders of the Intelligence Community this afternoon. I have tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation.
“While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines. There were attempts to hack the Republican National Committee, but the RNC had strong hacking defenses and the hackers were unsuccessful.
“Whether it is our government, organizations, associations or businesses we need to aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks. I will appoint a team to give me a plan within 90 days of taking office. The methods, tools and tactics we use to keep America safe should not be a public discussion that will benefit those who seek to do us harm. Two weeks from today I will take the oath of office and America’s safety and security will be my number one priority.”
So, from the top: Good, I’m glad Trump was able to sit through the meeting without proclaiming he knows more than the experts charged with explaining the world to him. And it was good to see in the second paragraph that he’s finally acknowledging that Russia has engaged in cyberattacks, though he trots right back from the edge by saying, in essence, well, all the other kids are doing it, too.
Then he concludes that the hacks, whoever was behind them, had “absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election” and that they didn’t include voting machine tampering. That’s true, the voting machines weren’t hacked.
But that’s not the issue. The issue was meddling by a foreign power, in this case through illegally accessing email servers and other shenanigans, in an effort to muddy the information backdrop of the election. Actions that Trump didn’t mention in his statement had actually occurred — he refers to attempts. Even granting that it was ineffective — and I’m not granting that — the problem isn’t whether it worked, but that it happened in the first place.
Nearly everybody who has investigated this lays the blame on the Russians. Trump still does not. Instead of focusing on culpability, he blames the victim – the Democratic* National Committee (*yes, Donald, the name ends with an “ic”) for getting hacked. As if the problem here was insufficient cyberdefense, instead of the attack itself, which, in a declassified brief released shortly after Trump’s non-condemnatory statement, the intelligence community blamed on Putin.
We’ve seen throughout Trump’s career, both in business and politics, that he can’t ignore a snub, and can’t admit a mistake. The right way to have come out of that briefing would have been to say, “OK, I’ve seen the intelligence community’s evidence, and it’s clear Russia was involved in hacking private servers. America still needs a restart of relations with Russia, but it must be done soberly, and I’ll keep these actions in mind as we move forward.”
Instead, Trump effectively says the victims should have had better security, declares the hacking didn’t affect voting machines (which no one really thinks was done anyway), and — this is the richest for a guy who campaigned against government and bloated bureaucracies — says he will appoint a committee to give him a plan, as though cyberattacks are some new thing no one in government has contemplated before.
But then, a president-elect who takes daily meetings with intelligence leaders would have known that.
Follow my posts and re-tweets at @smartelle on Twitter