He’s asked at around 2:10 below what he thinks about Lindsey Graham wanting to sanction Putin for hacking the DNC’s and John Podesta’s emails. His answer, in so many words: Computers are weird, you know?
“I think we ought to get on with our lives,” Trump said. “I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole age of the computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what’s going on. We have speed, we have a lot of other things, but I’m not sure we have the kind of security we need.”
I can’t imagine another situation in which the president would be asked publicly about criminal activity against Americans by a foreign state, accused by both the CIA and the FBI, and his response would essentially be to shrug. Even if it were a friendly power, like the UK, that was caught spying — never mind releasing the material in the middle of a national election to the detriment of one candidate — the president would call it a “matter of concern” and promise to “raise the issue with the British” or whatever. He’s the country’s chief national security officer; he has to at least pretend to care about Americans being victimized by cyberespionage. That’s especially true of a figure like Trump, who obsesses about projecting strength and cultivates a tough-guy protector image. (Picture his reaction if his nemesis, China, was caught with its hand in the cookie jar.) And yet, because it’s Russia, he’s reduced to saying “we ought to get on with our lives,” a line for which the right would have properly destroyed Obama if he had reacted that feebly to a hacking that had damaged one of his political opponents. If he doesn’t want to sanction Putin because it would screw up his diplomatic plans, just say that — “I’d rather try to resolve this issue in the course of negotiations with Russia on other issues” or “we should hold sanctions in reserve for now, to give me more leverage on Syria and Ukraine.” Instead, we get this. Why?
Watch the second clip below too, in which Graham claims that probably 99 of the Senate’s 100 members believe that Russia is behind the hackings. That puts Mitch McConnell in an awkward spot. Once hearings are held on the hackings, will he agree to let a new sanctions bill come to the floor? If he does and it passes, that’ll put the new president in a position where he’ll have to either sign the bill and risk blowing up his Russia detente before it’s begun or he’ll veto it over bipartisan opposition, raising an outcry on the left and among the Russia hawks on the right. Should McConnell protect Trump by refusing to let the sanctions bill get a vote or, assuming that support for it is overwhelming in the Senate, should he bow to sentiment within his own chamber and let the vote happen? It’ll be fascinating to see what happens within the GOP caucus as hawks like McCain and Graham lobby their colleagues to punish Russia while Trump quietly lobbies them the other way behind the scenes. Assuming all Democrats vote for sanctions (which the base will demand, to punish Putin for damaging Hillary), only 19 of the 52 Republicans in the Senate would need to vote with them to produce a veto-proof majority and impose sanctions over Trump’s objections. That would be a humiliating defeat for the new president and would complicate his Russia policy, to put it mildly. Can Schumer get 19 GOPers to break with Trump? Can Pelosi can get 90 Republicans?
It probably depends on the congressional hearings. Even if the CIA and FBI testify that Russia is behind the hackings, there are bound to be questions raised about some of the evidence. If you’re a Republican searching for ways to protect Trump by defeating the sanctions, just point to those questions as proof that the requisite certainty simply isn’t there to justify punitive action. That’s what Trump will do, of course, even though it means undermining the credibility of his main intelligence bureaus. What he needs is for McConnell and Ryan to hold their caucuses, or at least the vast majority, to the same line.