Sunday, December 11, 2016

Russia’s Hand in America’s Election

Photo
Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin last month. CreditPool photo by Sergei Ilnitsky
It’s not hard to see why Russia would have been tempted to tip the scales in America’s presidential election. American defense officials have been warning about Russia’s capabilities and dangerous intentions, calling Moscow the gravest threat to the United States.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, made it clear her administration would redouble efforts to punish and isolate Moscow for war crimes in Syria’s civil war and its aggression toward Ukraine and other neighbors. “I’ve stood up to Russia,” Ms. Clinton said during a debate in the fall. “I’ve taken Putin on and I would do that as president.”
In Mr. Trump, the Russians had reason to see a malleable political novice, one who had surrounded himself with Kremlin lackeys. Mr. Trump bragged that the Russian president had once called him “brilliant.” In July, Mr. Trump said he hoped Russia would hack and divulge more of Mrs. Clinton’s emails, an astonishing invitation to a foreign power that appeared already to be meddling in an American election.
In recent days, the scope and intent of Russia’s suspected involvement in the election has come into sharper focus. New disclosures by American officials now reveal that intelligence agencies concluded with “high confidence” that a desire to undermine American faith in the electoral system morphed into an effort to hurt Mrs. Clinton’s chances. One critical piece of evidence for this assessment was that suspected Russian hackers broke into the computer networks of both the Republican and Democratic national committees, but only leaked damaging emails from the latter.
At the urging of Democratic lawmakers, President Obama has asked the director of national intelligence to conduct a “full review” of Russia’s hidden hand in the election, the White House announced Friday. The inquiry, which is to be completed before Mr. Trump is sworn in on Jan. 20, is an important, if belated, step.
Weeks before the election, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, expressed skepticism about the intelligence reports and warned the White House that publicizing them would amount to a partisan act. The Republicans, however, did not protest when James Comey, the F.B.I. director, disclosed in a letter to Congress that a stash of emails found on Anthony Weiner’s computer appeared relevant to the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private server. By the time Mr. Comey said there was nothing new, the innuendo bomb against Mrs. Clinton had exploded and the damage was done.
In a Fox News interview on Sunday, Mr. Trump dismissed the intelligence assessment about Russian meddling with contempt, and accused Democrats of “putting it out because they suffered one of the greatest defeats in the history of politics in this country.”
Some Republican lawmakers recognize the importance of standing up to Russia and taking steps to restore faith in the electoral system and institutions. A bipartisan group, led by Senator John McCain, a Republican, pledged Sunday to get to the bottom of Russia’s role, noting that the possibility that Moscow shaped the outcome of America’s election ought to alarm every American. “This cannot become a partisan issue,” said the statement, which was also supported by Senator Charles Schumer, the incoming leader of the Senate Democrats. Among the unanswered questions is whether anyone within Mr. Trump’s inner circle coordinated with the Kremlin and whether Moscow spread fake news to hurt Mrs. Clinton.
Revelations about Russian involvement will loom over many of Mr. Trump’s decisions, including his likely choice to lead the State Department, Rex Tillerson. Mr. Tillerson, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil, has cultivated a close and profitable relationship with Mr. Putin and has criticized American sanctions against Russia.
Mr. Trump should be leading the call for a thorough investigation, since it would be the only way to remove this darkening cloud from his presidency. Failing to resolve the questions about Russia would feed suspicion among millions of Americans that a dominant theme of his candidacy turned out to be true: The election was indeed rigged.

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