DemocracyDemocracy Forum

Does the Russian Hack Matter?

When the Facts Get Sacrificed to Politics

Back in July, when it was first reported that Russians may have been hacking the emails of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), I wrote about how there might indeed be an effort by the Russian government to tamper with the U.S. presidential election. Various people on both the left and the right suggested that this was not just wrong, but irresponsibly naive for believing flimsy, unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. The irony here is that many other crazy theories are taken seriously, especially on the right — for instance, that Hillary Clinton was actively running a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor. The left had its own set of conspiracy theories about wealthy individuals secretly controlling society (though the right and the left sometimes merged on this issue, as with Trump’s final campaign ad about the cabal of international [read: Jewish] bankers who use their puppets, like Clinton, to rule over the U.S.). In contrast, my theories were pedestrian and my factual claims modest. I was simply suggesting that the reports of Russian hacking on behalf of Trump were worthy of examination.

From the left, I was accused of “left McCarthyism” for thoughtlessly invoking the old, tired stigma of Russian communism; and from the right, I was sent hate mail about how I was resisting Donald Trump as a credible candidate. I got whip-sawed.

It remains contested whether Putin, Russia, Russians from outside the government, or anyone in the U.S. outside (or even inside) the DNC hacked any emails. You would think we might be able to at least agree on something that happened here. But evidently that is not the case. There was much discussion in the press that the hacking was designed to undermine Clinton, who was widely known not to be a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s. Further reporting suggested that regardless of Putin’s feelings about Clinton there was evidence that the hacking was to help Trump win and that Trump’s campaign was in touch with the Kremlin. In a December press conference, President Obama stated that he had talked to Putin during the campaign and told him to “cut it out.”

Now, Obama has imposed sanctions on Russia and released a report purporting to show evidence of the Russian hacking, while promising a more complete report will be released before he steps down from the Presidency.

So the theory still lives on. Putin’s Russia may have indeed hacked the election to help defeat Clinton and enable Trump to win the presidency. If true, the U.S. must deal with the consequences. It is incredibly disturbing that our presidential elections might have been subject to foreign manipulation, and we as a people need to find out to what extent it was happening and what we should do about it to preserve the integrity of our election system. The consequences for U.S. democracy could not be greater.

But many people do not want to hear it, the consequences to democracy be damned. Many people, on both the left and the right, seem not to be willing to allow this disturbing and disorienting development to disrupt their preferred narrative: that Clinton was a failed candidate which now requires the Democratic Party to move left; or that Trump was a legitimate leader whose successful bid to stand up for America is not an accident of Russian intervention. It sometimes sounds as if people across the political spectrum would prefer not to take the issue seriously, so as to further their political objectives to either repudiate the neoliberal Clinton wing of the Democratic Party, or to affirm Trump’s presidency as a legitimate force to move the country to the right. Why let a few facts about foreign intervention into our elections undermine a deeply ingrained pre-existing political project?

The facts of the hacking may still be contestable, but there are other facts that should be less subject to debate: Russia is not communist; Putin is an autocrat; Trump is a dangerous demagogue; and Clinton was a flawed mainstream politician who failed to feel the pulse of a disenchanted electorate in rust-belt swing states. And the hacked emails were a factor in the election. Ideology should not stand in the way of an honest examination of what has now produced a potentially undemocratic Trump presidency (regardless of whether Russian tampering was critical or not).

There is concern that today we are in an era of post-truth politics, with fake news and micro-targeting of voters with lies and outlandish conspiracy theories. That is all the more reason to keep trying to get the facts about the hacking. The integrity of the U.S. election system and the country’s democratic aspirations demand nothing less.

Sanford Schram

  • laslanian

    Yes it seems that if we are willing to admit or investigate or look honestly at the probably intrusion into our elections then we are saying that Clinton was not a neoliberal. We are not. Both can be true. The Democrats may be in need of a candidate or a wing of the party more in touch with people in the swing states AND we were vulnerable to foreign involvement– and the involvement of the Russians should of course be of bi-partisan concern.

    • Sanford Schram

      Exactly!

  • Michael Quirk

    This is spot-on. I would only add two corollary points…

    1) Consider, for the sake of argument, the possibility that the Russian government did NOT hack into the DNC headquarters. It still remains the case that Trump has summarily and a priori dismissed any possibility that they DID as absurd and an “unfair” jab on the part of his domestic critics. This is not a display of healthy skepticism about spy agencies: it is outright disparagement of the intelligence services of the country of which he is poised to lead its executive branch. Is he saying that Putin and company are more credible sources? At best, his angry denunciations illustrate a skin so thin that even the suggestion that he might have had “help” winning the election would give him a mental and emotional rash. At worst, one can wonder whether the gentleman doth protest too much. Either way it reveals a 70-year-old man with the maturity of a 4-year-old. Or younger. Not one qualified for the presidency.

    2) It’s also a been claimed that the RNC headquarters were hacked. (NY Times, 12/9/2016) This has faded from the spotlight but it is important. If the RNC was also hacked, the contents of its emails have not as yet been released. One wonders why? Conspiracy theorists could have a field-day with this, but no one really has followed this lead. In any event, there is ample evidence that Trump is keen on brown-nosing Putin and co, and his subsequent choice of Tillerson as Secretary of State feeds the fires of suspicion that something covert is going on between Trump and the Putin regime, whether it be financial benefit, blackmail, or both. The overt love-fest between the two is reason enough to be nervous…..

  • COINTELPRO_MKULTRA

    Maybe president-elect Donald Trump is under duress because the CIA is actively trying to delegitimize the fair and predictable results of the 2016 US Presidential Election without proffering any evidence for their claims. There are no extant “facts of the hacking” to be contested.

    I’ve never seen and heard so much propaganda since the lead up to the Iraq War.

    • goyo

      “There are no extant facts”!!!… Set aside your emotional attachment to your candidate and the election, the intelligence is clear, there was hacking during the 2016 campaign – period.

      The hack was not done so carefully, and any malware / virus, will leave tracks that can be traced back to their origin. It’s a simple process. A thorough investigation of the hacking is necessary in a democratic society. Maybe you don’t care and you believe that your leader is the authority on anything and everything.

      Why would you not want our intelligence agencies to report on the necessary investigation of illegal activity? Because you fear the illegitimacy of Mr. Trump’s rise to power? You allegiance is akin to a cult of personality, knee jerk responses like “no evidence exists” is the real propoganda.

      • COINTELPRO_MKULTRA

        Trump is and never was my candidate. I have no allegiances.

        Sure, let them investigate and demonstrate their claims with evidence before I accept it as truth and the US government takes retaliatory action against a nuclear armed power.

        Please direct me to real evidence. It’s not clear whatsoever.

        I’m afraid you are the one acting on emotion and have inculcated the propaganda.

        • Joe Detroit

          I’m here to inform you that you don’t actually have the security clearance required to see that evidence. Yeah, that might not make the “evidence” too convincing. But consider: the intelligence agencies have shown the info to a variety of people that have been convinced, including Trump and leading Republicans. So unless you are suggesting a conspiracy including these figures, then I believe you have accept that there’s evidence…

        • goyo

          As Joe Detroit makes evident, if you want evidence on any intelligence matter not declassified, you need a security clearance of the highest order. So, I guess, you’ll have to get one from the CIA or FBI.

          The reality is, there is an abundance of that made it important enough to continually brief the POTUS, Senators and Congress. I am sure we will eventually know that Russia is in fact behind this. The extent of the damage to our democratic process and the results of the 2016 election is what is unclear.

          • COINTELPRO_MKULTRA

            I read the 25-page declassified public report. I insist you read it as well:

            https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf

            (1) No assertion that Russia tampered with voting booths or tallying with emphasis that this was not the case.
            (2) Totally banal assertions that Trump was Russia’s favored candidate.
            (3) Fixation on state news outlet RT’s role in influencing American voters by running stories and programming critical of Hillary Clinton, along with vague references to our
            (4) Most importantly, no demonstrated evidence that Russia hacked emails AND used said hacked emails to directly influence the US Presidential Election.

            I find the question of “the extent of the damage” non-sensical: (1) Why is it characterized as “damage” if voters have increased information on candidates? What is “damage”, considering the voting count wasn’t touched? (2) How do you quantify this damage? (3) What criterion do we use to determine it was extensive? (4) What would we do with that information?

            I, nor any other individual, am not obligated to assent or believe in any unsubstantiated claim from any other individual or organization.

            If intelligence agencies want to (1) make extraordinary claims about of a nuclear armed power (2) cast doubt on the legitimacy of 2016 US Presidential Election outcome, and (3) expect the citizenry to accept such claims, then they are morally obligated to declassify this information and make it abundantly clear to everyone, especially considering the CIA’s TRACK RECORD concerning TRUTH, TRANSPARENCY, and PROMOTING DEMOCRACY. HERE AND ABROAD. Especially James Clapper.

            http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/homeland-security/313364-intel-agencies-ask-americans-to-trust-dont-verify-in-new

            POTUS and many establishment polticians, both Democratic and Republicans, have a vested interest in delegitimizing Trump and distracting the populace from the CONTENT of the allegedly hacked emails and its TRUTH VALUE. Mainstream liberals are being emotionally manipulated through fear of Trump and seem way too accepting of the increased intervention of intelligence agencies for my taste. I think they’re playing a dangerous game.

            The fact that you can only think of this in terms of acquiring classified information via proper legal channels, such as snarkly suggesting that I as an average individual citizen petition for security clearance to verify these claims is indicative of how mentally conditioned you are to accept unsubstantiated claims on the basis of government authority.

            We both have access to the same information, I presume. I implore you and others to use critical thinking, demand evidence when it is warranted, know their rights, and work in solidarity with others when rights are infringed.

            Don’t be so “sure” of things. I’m certainly not either way.

          • goyo

            Not snarky, just very suspicious about the Trump connection to Russia and the mutual adoration between leaders (Putin-Trump). I would think you’d use your own advice and not be so “sure” of things and the official statements by the Trump transition team.

            Gen. Michael Flynn, President-elect Trump’s pick to be national security adviser, did speak to Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak by telephone on Dec. 29, the same day the Obama administration announced measures retaliating against Russia for interfering in the 2016 presidential campaign, two Trump transition officials confirm to NPR.”

            Why is a civilian, like Flynn reaching out to a foreign country, against US law?

            I never believe things at face value when any source says it is the truth, but when so many sources point to collusion and their are “digital fingerprints” that indicate a rogue leader like Putin is a suspect, I find it hard not to believe Russia is involved in hacking when they’ve done similar meddling in Europe and other countries.

            I believe the bigger issue with Trump’s rise is the billionaire (Wall St.) class in the USA who came to his aide when he won the Rep. nomination.

          • COINTELPRO_MKULTRA

            (1) Trump was not Wall Street’s candidate. Hillary Clinton was the favored Wall Street candidate and many very rich and powerful people lost a lot of money on her. Approximately $1.2 billion dollars to be exact. Regardless, the “Wall Street Class” always wins – we have no real choice in regards to that, presuming YOU are not a billionaire (I know that I ‘m not). False dichotomy.

            Not to mention Hillary Clinton was also the favored candidate of neoliberal/neoconservative Warhawks. Also a factions of intelligence.

            https://www.thenation.com/article/hillary-clintons-embrace-of-kissinger-is-inexcusable/

            https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/08/06/pers-a06.html?view=article_mobile

            (2) All States engage in hacking, spying, surveillance, and manipulating online social media forums, including the United States on its official enemies and allies. “Cyber attacks” occur all the time.

            The claimed connection between Russia’s cyber activity and the US Presidential election as currently presented is filmsy at most or non-existent, as far as declassified information goes (which again, has no real information beyond assertions). This is the real question.

            As far as meddling in the affairs of foreign nations, including European States bordering Russia, neither State (Russia or the United States) has a moral high ground.

            In fact, the United States is currently deploying troops in Eastern Europe:

            https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.cnn.com/cnn/2017/01/14/europe/poland-us-troops-nato-welcome/index.html?client=safari

            “Show of force” ((!))

            https://www.google.com/amp/www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/38592448?client=safari

            How is this not a provocation against Russia? What if Russia deployed tanks and troops in a nation of equal distance of the mainland United States, accusing it of influencing its elections and without publishing evidence? Who do you believe is acting aggressively in this situation and where is the evidence to support aggressive action?

            (3) I have *never* cited anything from the Trump transition team. I provided the publicly available version of the official report provided directly by the intelligence community.

            (4) Again: on what grounds did Obama announce retaliatory actions against a nuclear armed power weeks before the expected termination of his presidency? Official answer: “Interference in the 2016 US presidential election” — The very spoon fed “fact” I’m extraordinarily skeptical of because of the withholding of alleged evidence.

            (5) As for Flynn, your guess is as good as mine!

            Maybe Trump is a Manchurian candidate bent on destroying the United States and allow Putim to rule the world (similar to how low education conservatives claim Obama is a secret Islamist destroying the United States on purpose). Or maybe they’re trying to de-escalate the new Cold-War tension that Obama, Hillary, and the intelligence communities are generating based on evidence we aren’t “authorized” to see.

            I kind of want to decrease my chances of dying in a nuclear holocaust. Obama’s actions and the CIA’s “high confidence” (i.e. a purported “hunch”) doesn’t sit well with me.

            (5) The propaganda tactics are working. We’re not engaging with facts or substance or how to move the country forward: we are distracted by getting lost in speculative machinations created to refocus our attention away from revelations of corruption and very naughty things done HERE.

          • COINTELPRO_MKULTRA

            And yes, there’s an effort to bring about a new McCarthyism as far as I’m concerned. They’re pushing to associate left, certain liberal, libertarian, and other dissenting viewpoints with Russian propaganda. The “Putin sycophant” is the new Commie we are supposed to hate:

            “RT’s reports often characterize the United States as a “surveillance state” and allege widespread infringements of civil liberties, police brutality, and drone use (RT, 24,
            28 October, 1-10 November).”

            “In an effort to highlight the alleged “lack of
            democracy” in the United States, RT broadcast, hosted, and advertised third-party candidate debates and ran reporting supportive of the political agenda of these candidates.The RT hosts asserted that the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a “sham.””

            “RT has also focused on criticism of the US
            economic system, US currency policy, alleged
            Wall Street greed, and the US national debt. Some of RT’s hosts have compared the United States to Imperial Rome and have predicted that government corruption and “corporate greed” will lead to US financial collapse (RT, 31 October, 4 November).”

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