It seems all anyone wants to discuss is attempts by Russia to hack into American political organizations — except when it involves coming to Congress. Media outlets have reported on the hacks for months through anonymous sources within the intelligence community, mainly from the CIA, on their conclusion that Vladimir Putin sought to either boost Donald Trump or at least kneecap Hillary Clinton. Other sources from the FBI and the ODNI refute those conclusions, and all the while no one’s getting much in the way of hard data one way or the other.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said Wednesday that top intelligence directors declined the panel’s request to brief lawmakers on what he’s called “conflicting assessments” of Russia’s apparent interference in the U.S. election.
The California Republican said in a letter Monday to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that he was “dismayed that we did not learn earlier, from you directly, about … the CIA’s reported revision of information previously conveyed to this committee.” He said the CIA’s recent findings conflicted with briefings the panel received earlier in the year and asked for a briefing as soon as possible.
Top intelligence officials, however, rejected the panel’s request to come in Thursday, according to Nunes.
Clapper responded by saying that their investigation is ongoing and that Congress would be briefed at the appropriate time:
Senior Administration Officials have regularly provided extensive, detailed classified and unclassified briefings to members and staff from both parties on Capitol Hill since this past summer and have continued to do so after Election Day.
Last week, the President ordered a full Intelligence Community review of foreign efforts to influence recent Presidential elections – from 2008 to present. Once the review is complete in the coming weeks, the Intelligence Community stands ready to brief Congress—and will make those findings available to the public consistent with protecting intelligence sources and methods. We will not offer any comment until the review is complete.
Well, quite a few people under Clapper’s command have been offering comments through the media in the meantime. Thus far as is known, Nunes and other Congressional leaders have gotten briefed on the hacks and their origins, but it appears that few if any got briefed on the idea that it was an overarching operation to skew the election itself. That analysis seems to have caught Congress by surprise, which is why Nunes wanted the briefing in the first place. (As I noted earlier, it would have been a curiously indirect way of going about it anyway.)
Clapper’s answer doesn’t help. The various agencies have all had people running to the media to offer up conflicting theories about the intent of all the hacking, creating the kind of uncertainty that almost certainly benefits our enemies abroad even while everyone from the White House down agrees that the election process itself didn’t get compromised. With at least one of his agencies leaking like a sieve, Clapper’s stand on no-comments during open investigations looks pretty self-serving. It also looks like a dodge to keep Clapper and others off the hot seat over all of the leaks.
What about the uncertainty all this creates? It may not be as bad as the media paints it. A new Fox poll shows that a solid majority of Americans believe that Russian hacking didn’t have any effect on the election outcome:
Fifty-nine percent of all voters polled by Fox News said they don’t think Russian hacking made a difference in the election, while 32 percent believe Moscow helped President-elect Donald Trump win.
Opinions were split among partisan lines, with 82 percent of Republicans, 64 percent of independents and 36 percent of Democrats saying Russia’s interference had no impact.
Interestingly, Trump gets his best numbers yet in this poll … but they’re still underwater. His overall favorability is now 47/51 for a -4, the first time that has been in negative single digits in the entire cycle. It’s also the first time he’s been ahead of Hillary (42/56). Trump scores his best numbers on temperament too, but it’s still 44/52. He’s only getting a 44/46 on his Cabinet choices, but 57% believe that it’s mostly comprised of outsiders. He may not get a honeymoon out of these numbers, but there’s nothing in this poll to suggest that the Russian-hacking claims have eroded his legitimacy as the election winner.