Well, yes, but Russia hacking and leaking information to try to influence Americans as they chose the next leader of the free world is a big deal even if the media’s personal interest in it isn’t much more exalted than partisan butthurt. And note: According to U.S. intel, Russia did orchestrate the leaking to Wikileaks too, not just the hacking.
U.S. intelligence agencies obtained what they considered to be conclusive evidence after the November election that Russia provided hacked material from the Democratic National Committee to WikiLeaks through a third party, three U.S. officials said on Wednesday.
U.S. officials had concluded months earlier that Russian intelligence agencies had directed the hacking, but had been less certain that they could prove Russia also had controlled the release of information damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
When asked why they thought the evidence of leaking was “conclusive,” Reuters’s sources said they couldn’t reveal their methods. Which, alas, is probably what we’re going to be stuck with on this Russia mess, especially if there are American agents inside the Kremlin or Wikileaks who are at risk. The intelligence community can’t give specifics without exposing its spycraft so the public will have to decide whether to trust them or to trust Sean Hannity’s new friend Julian Assange. Cruz himself is typically cagey here about how much he believes the CIA’s theory of the case, but when asked by Hugh Hewitt this morning about Assange insisting that Russia wasn’t his source, he said, “Assange has done enormous damage to our national security. I would not be praising him under any circumstances.”
Skip to 4:30 of the clip below, from an interview with Mike Gallagher, for the rest of his thoughts on this. He’s staying on Trump’s good side as much as he can, emphasizing three points: First, that the media is cynically using this story to try to delegitimize Trump; second, that Russia’s operations were encouraged by Obama’s provocative weakness; and third, the “no harm, no foul” view that whatever Russia may or may not have done, surely the Wikileaks stuff didn’t affect the outcome of the election. How could it have, he asks? Hardly anyone heard about it. Which is sort of true and sort of not. It’s true that the nightly news shows on the broadcast networks gave short shrift to the Wikileaks revelations but it’s also true that interest online started spiking in October, when new Podesta emails began appearing regularly. There’s no way to gauge how influential they were, really, because of their drip-drip-drip nature; if the entire batch had been released on one day, we could have looked at the polls from the following week and had a better sense. Regardless, “no one knew about the emails!” seems less persuasive to me as an argument for why they didn’t decide the election than the reality of their consumption through a partisan lens. I’d bet bigly, as Trump might say, that the people who were most interested in the Wikileaks stuff were people who were never voting Hillary to begin with. The Podesta emails were Exhibit Z999 for Trump voters on why she should never be president. For everyone else: Meh. At best, I think, they lent a bit of extra zest to the already pervasive sense that she was too corrupt to be worthy of a vote.
Speaking of partisan lenses, a new poll from YouGov finds that Americans support Obama’s new sanctions on Russia, 49/30, and hope that Trump keeps them in place by a 42/26 margin. How come? Simple: Democrats are strongly supportive whereas Republicans are more conflicted, which is exactly what you’d expect. For Democrats, the partisan and patriotic impulses in this case align. Russia committed a crime against Americans and that crime might have damaged their party’s chances at the White House. For Republicans, the patriotic and partisan impulses collide. Having Moscow influence a U.S. election is a bad thing but Democrats losing is a good thing. The result is that Dems split 71/11 on new sanctions while Republicans split 37/48, producing the overall 49/30 numbers. That also explains why Cruz took the position he did. He won’t defend Russia or Assange, as a nod to the 37 percent of Republicans who support sanctions, but he’ll aim to please the 48 percent who oppose them by taking what I’d call an anti-anti-Trump line, attacking Obama and the anti-Trump media to keep the Trump fans happy. Expect lots more “anti-anti-Trump” messaging from Cruz in the years ahead, as it’ll keep Trump voters well disposed to him while also doing less damage to Cruz’s conservative brand.