Whatever you say, champ. I hope Operation F*** Putin is under way and complete by January 20, though, because if it’s not finished by then, lord knows it won’t be finished at all.
Say, if Russia’s role in the DNC and Podesta hackings has been common knowledge within the administration for so long, why didn’t O act more aggressively during the campaign to stop it? According to NBC, it’s because … he assumed Hillary would win and would retaliate against Putin in a manner of her own choosing as president. That was an awfully high-stakes gamble considering that, if Obama was wrong, it meant not only would there be no reprisals against Russia under the next administration but Russia would probably be rewarded for its crimes with the lifting of U.S. sanctions. Oops:
The Obama administration didn’t respond more forcefully to Russian hacking before the presidential election because they didn’t want to appear to be interfering in the election and they thought that Hillary Clinton was going to win and a potential cyber war with Russia wasn’t worth it, multiple high-level government officials told NBC News.
“They thought she was going to win, so they were willing to kick the can down the road,” said one U.S official familiar with the level of Russian hacking.
In the end, one of the worst things to happen to Clinton and the Democrats during the campaign was the fact that she led the polls consistently, which created false confidence in all sorts of ways. If she and Trump had been neck and neck throughout, she might not have taken the Rust Belt for granted and Obama might have been more proactive in brushing back Russia. That’s something for the eventual Harry Turtledove novel about all of this: How do things play out if Trump’s poll surge happens at the end of August, say, instead of the end of October? Does Clinton make adjustments in the midwest and win? Does Obama order a covert cyber-operation against Moscow? Does he roll the dice and go public with the CIA’s assessment that Russia was acting to benefit Trump?
Ed wrote this morning that the fact that Russia failed to hack the RNC undermines the CIA’s theory that Russia was trying to help Trump. What appears to be a “pro-Trump” effort may simply be the result of their inability to infiltrate both sides. They published what they had not because they were targeting Democrats specifically but because only Democrats were stupid enough to let their cyberdefenses down. It’s an interesting argument but I don’t know if it works. For one thing, the Journal story notes that Russia’s operation to crack the RNC’s servers was “less aggressive and much less persistent” than their operations against the DNC, which ultimately involved two different Russian agencies. (The Journal claims just one Republican email account was targeted.) For another thing, there’s no way to know what Russia would have done with the material stolen from the RNC if it had successfully hacked the group. Maybe they would have sat on it and used it to blackmail President Trump once he was in office. Or maybe they were looking for the RNC’s oppo research on Clinton, stuff that Russia could use against her as president if their efforts on Trump’s behalf failed and she won.
It could also be, though, that the scope of the mission evolved, with Russia initially hoping to do nothing more than sow chaos and delegitimize the election by hacking both sides but gradually shifting to a more pro-Trump posture as the campaign wore on. Intelligence sources tell Reuters that that’s what happened:
The U.S. officials – who have knowledge of intelligence information on the matter – said on the condition of anonymity that the hacking of U.S. political groups and figures had a more general focus at first.
“This began merely as an effort to show that American democracy is no more credible than Putin’s version is,” one of the officials said.
“It gradually evolved from that to publicizing (Hillary) Clinton’s shortcomings and ignoring the products of hacking Republican institutions, which the Russians also did,” the official said.
By the fall, the official said, it became an effort to help Trump’s campaign because “Putin believed he would be much friendlier to Russia, especially on the matter of economic sanctions” than Democratic rival Clinton.
Trump’s most famous statement about Russia during the campaign, when he said at a presser that he hoped Russia would “find” Hillary’s missing emails, didn’t come until July 27th. He’d made noise before then about being skeptical of NATO, but Trump is all over the board on most issues and Putin may have concluded that he couldn’t rely too much on him to be a dove in office. What he said about Clinton’s emails in July made a huge impact on Republican opinion of Putin, though, and may have made an impact on the Kremlin too in showing them just how far Trump would go — on camera and in the middle of a presidential campaign — to spin Russian espionage. It’s not crazy to think Putin might have become more enthusiastic about Trump as the campaign wore on. Whether there’s actual intelligence to that effect is, of course, a separate question.
Obama will be talking about all of this today at a White House press conference at 2:15. Russian hacking of American institutions has continued “unabated” since the election, notes a new CNN story today. Presumably so has U.S. hacking of Russian institutions, but Obama’s at a PR disadvantage since Russian media won’t publicize their own government’s vulnerabilities the way a free press in America will publicize its own. Presumably O will also say something today pushing back against Trump’s skepticism of Russian involvement in the hackings, but he’ll have to be careful. Trump’s already annoyed at having been criticized yesterday by Josh Earnest; if Obama joins in, it’s going to destroy O’s efforts to cultivate a friendship with Trump in hope of influencing him on policy. Oh, and before I forget — one of the funniest things on political Twitter last night was a dopey rumor being circulated by some liberals that Obama is going to do something dramatic today like refuse to transfer power to Trump or call on the electoral college to vote against him, etc. That’s an insane fantasy, of course, but I want to mention it in case you’re wondering why so many lefties seem so glum this afternoon after what turns out to be a mostly uneventful press conference.