It’s like the plot of a fantastical political thriller.
Russian hackers attempt to subvert the American presidential election. The CIA uncovers the malign meddling, but when the Russians’ favored candidate wins the presidency, that candidate dismisses the findings of the intelligence community as “ridiculous” and disparages the work of his own country’s spy agencies. Not only that, but the president-elect names as his national security advisor a retired general with warm feelings for the Russians and picks as his secretary of State a man who received Russia’s highest friendship medal.
An outrageous scenario, right? Unfortunately, it is not a book or a movie — it is current reality.
If it had been Hillary Clinton who openly invited the Russians to hack her opponent, who denigrated the CIA, who discounted evidence that Russians were guilty of undermining American democracy and appointed pro-Russian individuals to her cabinet, Republican politicians would be accusing her of treason, appointing a special prosecutor and putting their investigative committees to work. Instead, because it is Donald Trump who has done all those things, most Republicans are acting as if the hacking attack is nothing worse than a juvenile prank.
To his great credit, Arizona Sen. John McCain, a man who has sacrificed for his country in ways the soft-bellied careerists in his party cannot even imagine, is agitating for a select committee to look into the Russian cyberattack. To make that happen, he needs to get support within his own caucus, which may or may not be forthcoming. In the meantime, he has said he will ask his friend South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham to chair a subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee to look into the facts the intelligence agencies have uncovered.
“It's clear the Russians interfered,” McCain said on the CBS Sunday news program “Face the Nation.” “Now, whether they intended to interfere to the degree that they were trying to elect a certain candidate, I think that's a subject of investigation.”
In stark contrast with the patriotic McCain, Trump and his surrogate hit squads have been attempting to twist the story to imply that the CIA is in cahoots with Democrats who want to delegitimize Trump’s victory over Clinton. The president-elect tapped out a series of nonsensical tweets on the subject. In one, he said it is impossible to know who is perpetrating a cyberattack unless the hacker is caught in the act, an assertion that is demonstrably untrue. He then asked, “Why wasn’t this brought up before the election?” That query was especially bizarre since Trump himself raised the topic in tweets as early as July, and Clinton talked about it in the third presidential debate.
What Trump’s reaction reveals is that he is far quicker to defend himself when he imagines he is being attacked than he is to rise to the defense of his country. It is scandalous that his knee-jerk, self-centered response to the hacking revelations was to unleash his sycophants to slander the intelligence community upon which the security of the United States depends.
Trump’s willingness to believe Russian denials rather than CIA evidence has enhanced concerns about his choice of ExxonMobil Chief Executive Rex Tillerson to be secretary of State. Since 1999, Tillerson has had multiple friendly encounters with Russian President Vladimir Putin as he negotiated multibillion-dollar oil deals with Moscow. In 2012, Putin gave Tillerson a medal at an economic forum in St. Petersburg. The next year, Putin awarded Tillerson a second medal, the Order of Friendship, the highest honor for foreign citizens who have been of service to Russia.
As secretary of State, Tillerson would have a major influence over whether to lift economic sanctions imposed on Russia after Russia’s seizure of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine. As ExxonMobil’s top man, he has criticized those penalties. The oil corporation’s stock value would increase if sanctions are dropped, making Tillerson an even richer man, given that he now reportedly holds $151 million in ExxonMobil shares.
McCain wants to put some hard questions to Tillerson, as he should. We will see how many of his Republican colleagues show similar spine. My guess is that most of them will acquiesce to their new president’s dangerous flirtation with a ruthless Russian regime — a regime that considers an American election a target of opportunity.
Follow me at @davidhorsey on Twitter
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