I can’t tell yet if this is a new spin strategy carefully scripted by Team Trump or if Reince is about to get an angry phone call from his boss. Trump’s argument, after all, has been that there’s no way to tell who’s behind a hack. “Entities in Russia” puts the culprits a lot closer to Moscow than the proverbial “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, okay?”
The phrasing is noteworthy. Reince does answer “Russia” at one point when Wallace badgers him to name who Trump thinks is behind the hackings, but during the rest of the interview he uses the phrase “entities in Russia,” which feels deliberately ambiguous. “Entities” could refer to private hackers acting on their own initiative, not at the behest of the Russian government. This may be Team Trump trying to find a middle way between accepting the new intelligence report and sticking with their talking point that we can’t know with absolute certainty that Putin’s behind this. Okay, they now seem to be saying, we accept that it was someone in Russia who did the hacking and handed the material off to Wikileaks, but as to whether they were following orders from the Kremlin, hmmm.
For the record, this is what the report released on Friday had to say about that:
We assess Russian intelligence services collected against the US primary campaigns, think tanks, and lobbying groups they viewed as likely to shape future US policies. In July 2015, Russian intelligence gained access to Democratic National Committee (DNC) networks and maintained that access until at least June 2016.
The General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) probably began cyber operations aimed at the US election by March 2016. We assess that the GRU operations resulted in the compromise of the personal e-mail accounts of Democratic Party officials and political figures. By May, the GRU had exfiltrated large volumes of data from the DNC…
We assess with high confidence that the GRU relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks. Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity. Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries.
It was Putin himself who directed how the hacked material was leaked, according to NBC’s sources in U.S. intelligence. Per Friday’s DNI report: “We assess with high confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election, the consistent goals of which were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.” Putin and his intel outfits do technically qualify as “entities in Russia,” but I think Reince is being deliberately vague here for a reason. We’ll see if he, Trump, Kellyanne Conway, or any other surrogate points the finger squarely at Putin and the Russian government this week.
In the meantime, the new strategy seems to be to blame the DNC and Podesta for their own hackings. Reince spends a lot of time on that argument here — so much so that Wallace asks him point-blank at one point whether he thinks the hackers or their victims bear most of the responsibility for what happened. Priebus dutifully says the hackers before launching back into several more minutes of pointing fingers at the victims. It is true that the DNC’s and Podesta’s security was piss-poor: Read this if you missed it last month for an account of how the DNC blew off the FBI when the feds first tried to alert them to shenanigans in their server and how a miscommunication about a spear-phishing email led to Podesta’s account being breached. There’s also “fake news” circulating, though, to try to make the Democrats’ negligence seem worse than it was. For instance, contrary to increasingly popular belief, Podesta’s password wasn’t “password.” And why would it matter if he had a weak or strong password given that he was hacked via a phishing scam? The point of phishing is to get someone to hand over their password under false pretenses. You could make it 50 characters long and you’ll still be hacked if you fall for it.
“Blame the victims” is smart spin, though, given that this entire story is partisan warfare for most. For instance, George W. Bush’s account was reportedly breached by the Romanian hacker Guccifer through nothing more complicated than guessing the answers to his security questions based on publicly available information. Few on the right attacked Bush for having weak security, though, even though he’s an ex-president who’s probably still in touch with people who have access to sensitive information. Why? Because a crime’s a crime, even if the victim is a bit of a sucker, and it’s a serious crime if committed by an enemy power in hopes of influencing the outcome of a U.S. presidential election. If Trump had been spear-phished by China and the contents of his email leaked to try to help Clinton, righties would be rightly pissed and lefties would be guffawing that only a dope would fall for a scam so simple knowing that foreign intelligence services were interested in him. Oh well.