The current spectacle has little to do with Russian intelligence — it’s about Democrats wanting an election do-over.
The hypocrisy oozing from the peddling of this week’s narrative about Russian “meddling” in the U.S. presidential election is thick even by the sorry standards of modern American politics.
I feel entitled to be amused, having maintained, through a decade of bipartisan idiocy, that Putin’s thug-ocracy is an enemy of the United States: from the Bush-administration howler that Russia is our “strategic partner,” through eight years of the Obama-Hillary “reset”; from Obama’s mumbling as Putin annexed Crimea and other swathes of Ukraine (after Obama, as a senator, joined with senior Republicans to disarm Ukraine), through Bush’s mumbling as Putin annexed swathes of Georgia. I saw Russia as a major problem long before it began violating the “new START” treaty that Obama signed and Republicans approved; before Secretary Clinton helped Putin cronies acquire a major slice of American uranium stock; and before Obama’s promise to Vlad (communicated through Putin-puppet Medvedev) that he’d have “more flexibility” to cut deals after the 2012 election.
Suffice it to say that if the American political class is suddenly worried about Russian aggression, deceit, cyber-espionage, and collaboration with Iran (in order to — get this! — fight terrorism), I welcome it to the club. And if the gray beards are fretting over Donald Trump’s potential coziness with our enemies, that’s good to hear . . . although it would have been nice to have a fraction of that fretting when it came to the Obama-Clinton operational coziness with our enemies.
All that said, the Democrats’ Chicken Little routine can’t be serious, nor is the chattering class that pretends to take it seriously.
To begin with, it would be shocking if the Russians had not attempted to meddle in our election. Historically, they’ve done it countless times (I assume, every time). That’s what hostiles do, they make mischief when and where they can. Democrats, moreover, conveniently forget that they’ve historically welcomed such mischief-making — such as when Jimmy Carter pleaded with Leonid Brezhnev for Soviet help in the futile effort to defeat Ronald Reagan in 1980 and when Ted Kennedy pleaded with Yuri Andropov for Soviet help in the futile effort to defeat Reagan in 1984.
If the American intelligence community (IC), after considered chin stroking, had concluded that there had been no Russian attempts to meddle in the presidential election, I imagine most taxpayers would say we want our $50 billion per annum back — a reaction that may be warranted in any event given the IC’s propensity to politicize its reports and to miss major developments from Pearl Harbor to 9/11, and from the rise of jihadist Iran to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
According to the Democrat-media complex, the IC believes Russia not only meddled in our election but intentionally swung it to Trump. Indeed, to hear them tell it, our spies haven’t been this sure of something since that “slam-dunk” about Saddam hoarding WMDs.
In point of fact, though, they don’t even have proof that pins hacking on Putin’s regime. The main heavy breathing comes from the Washington Post. If you invest the time it takes to read through the first 26 paragraphs of its explosive report, you are finally told that the Post’s sources — anonymous “intelligence officials” — admit that the “actors” who came into possession of hacked files are “‘one step’ removed from the Russian government.” They may have “affiliations” to Russian intelligence services, but what exactly that means the sources can’t say. No wonder that the FBI, which is expected to be able to prove the allegations it makes, disagrees with the Post’s unidentified leakers. No wonder that other intelligence sources tell the Wall Street Journal’s editors that the leakers’ evidence is “thin.” (Since this column was written, the New York Times has published a lengthy report to undergird the “Russia Hacked the Election” narrative; I had a brief reaction to it on the Corner this morning.)
Even if we assume (as I do) that Putin’s regime was trying to intervene in the election, the claim that its clear intention was to help Trump is a stretch.
It is worth remembering that in March 2014, when 50,000 Russian troops were marshaled on the Ukrainian border (shortly after Putin had annexed Crimea, and six years after he took parts of Georgia), Obama-administration officials told the Wall Street Journal, “What matters is [Putin’s] intent, and we don’t have a sense of that.” Now, however, despite a comparative dearth of evidence, the CIA suddenly has ESP. Based on what? Evidently, the Post’s anonymous leakers are inferring a Russian rooting interest from the appearance — they can’t say it’s a fact — that greater effort was made to hack the Democrats than the Republicans.
This claim belongs in the Chutzpah Hall of Fame.
Remember how bonkers the Democrat-media complex went toward the end of the campaign when Trump said the election was “rigged”? The media immediately demanded hard proof that the voting process was corrupted — that there had been tampering of the polling machines or a flood of ineligible voters casting ballots. Unable to produce such probative evidence, Trump moved the goal post: What he’d meant by “rigged,” his camp now said, was not really vote fraud but blatantly biased news coverage — Trump’s indiscretions were magnified while Hillary’s were barely covered.
This prompted great Democrat-media ridicule: Trump had to climb down, they scoffed, because he’d made an absurd “rigging the election” allegation that he couldn’t back up. It was said that Trump was reduced to squawking about one-sided coverage because he couldn’t show that what the press was reporting about him was untrue.
Well what have we here?
The Democrats and their media note takers started out telling us that the Russians had “hacked” the election. But when hard proof is demanded, they must admit that there is not a scintilla of suggestion that Putin’s intelligence operatives tampered with votes — in fact, since most of the polling is not online, there’s not even evidence that an election could be hacked. So now, Democrats have moved the goal post: What they meant by “hacked,” we’re told, is not really vote fraud but blatantly biased leaking — the Democrats’ embarrassing communications were exposed while the GOP’s remained concealed.
So . . . where is the ridicule? You’re not hearing it because the media is hoping you won’t notice the Democrats’ climb down. They made an absurd “hacking the election” allegation that they can’t back up. At most, what happened here is: The Russians did to Democrats exactly what the media does to Republicans — they subjected one side to intense scrutiny while giving the other side a pass.
As we saw with Trump, when Republicans complain about one-sided coverage, the usual media retort is to ask whether anything that has been reported about them is untrue. With the shoe now on the other foot, though, Democrats duck this question. Why? Because they know the hacked e-mails are authentic — Debbie Wasserman Shultz really did skew the nomination process to help Clinton stave off Bernie Sanders; Donna Brazile really did leak the debate questions to the Clinton camp; the Democrats really do look at journalists as members of the team; top Clinton aides really did mock Catholics; Clinton advisers really did worry about Obama’s e-mails to Clinton’s private account — and about the fact that the president was lying when he claimed to have learned about Clinton’s use of private e-mail through news reports. Clinton and her top staffers really did stonewall the public on her private e-mails because “they wanted to get away with it.”
Here’s the reality: Everyone knows the Russians meddle in our elections, just as they nefariously meddle in much else. That is why it was so reckless of Clinton to keep our nation’s most closely guarded defense secrets on a private, non-secure e-mail system. Up until November 8, Democrats told us there was no reason to be alarmed about such vulnerabilities in the face of likely Russian hacking. Now, hacking is suddenly a crisis — not because the Russians are doing anything different, but because Hillary lost.
Even if the Russians did want Trump to win, what difference, at this point, does it make? The United States is the world’s most consequential nation, so lots of countries figure they have a stake in the outcome of our elections — and some, if they have the requisite capabilities, try in various ways to influence the outcome . . . just as the Obama administration has tried to influence the outcome of Israeli elections, the Brexit referendum, and other foreign contests.
The fact that they think one side or the other would be better for them does not make it so. More to the point, unless there is evidence that the meddlers have fiddled with the vote count, who cares? Under our law, it is permissible to sway the outcome of an election based on false information — just ask Harry Reid. What’s the Democrat-media complaint? That there was too much true information?
Want to recognize Russia as an enemy? Want Congress to do a thoroughgoing investigation of all its espionage and meddling in our country, including efforts to influence election outcomes? Want to hold Trump’s feet to the fire because you’re worried that he and some of his subordinates seem oddly well-disposed toward Putin, a murderous, anti-American dictator? By all means, let’s do it. It’s way past time.
But let’s not pretend the “Russia hacked the election” farce is anything other than what it is: a scheme by the Democrat-media complex to rationalize a do-over — to persuade the Electoral College that it is not bound by the election results. The spectacle we’re watching has nothing to do with Russia.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.