After FBI Director James Comey confirmed the existence of an investigation into potential ties between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia, conspiracy theorists rejoiced. Yet it’s almost certain they won’t get what they desire.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m always rooting for an impeachment. Perhaps the FBI will ferret out emails that show Trump asking Vlad Putin to hack John Podesta’s emails. President Mike Pence would in every way — on trade, foreign policy, entitlements, and just overall competence and non-craziness — offer a more conservative White House than Trump does. Democrats will detest him, just as vigorously, if not more.
But until such a bombshell hits, or we learn that Roger Stone was colluding with WikiLeaks (of course, then many in the media will then retroactively transform the bizarre Stone into the most vital man in Trump’s campaign), let’s remember that nowhere does anything that happened in 2016 come close to affirming the specious contention that Russians “hacked the election.”
As T. Becket Adams pointed out in the Washington Examiner: “It’s not incorrect to say Russia likely meddled in or interfered with in the presidential election, based on what the U.S. intelligence community has reported. It’s terribly misleading, on the other hand, to say Russia hacked the election.”
It’s probably more accurate to contend that Russia tried but failed to interfere in the election. Even so, this is unlikely to stop liberal journalists like David Corn or Glenn Thrush at The New York Times from framing the stories in this way, which attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the entire system.
And it’s too late to walk outsized expectations back to a reasonable place. When Rep. Devin Nunes asked Comey whether the vote tallies in several states had been tampered with, a number of journalists remarked that the question was obvious misdirection. No one was making that allegation, they claimed. Well, when noted liberal writers allege there is “evidence that Russian intelligence carried out a successful plan to pick the government of the United States” and keep repeating the “election was hacked,” their readers start to get ridiculous ideas. This is why an Economist/YouGov poll found that 52 percent of Democrats now believe Russia “tampered with vote tallies.”
Even if Trump associates colluded with Russia, there is still no evidence that foreigners influenced the voting public enough to matter.
Mr. President, the Russians hacked our election and interfered. No one disputes this now, but you. This is what is called “fact”. https://t.co/izJhR5xRrf
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) March 20, 2017
The Russian hacking of Podesta’s emails is not an election stolen. It is a blatant attempt at interfering in American politics, and should be condemned by everyone. Yet the idea that the proletariat in Pennsylvania or Indiana were so troubled when finding out about the internal conflicts of Democratic Party factions that they cast their vote for Trump is a fantasy.
Has anyone polled American voters and asked how many of them know who John Podesta is? I imagine the number is miniscule. Hillary lost Wisconsin because she didn’t campaign there, or because voters have never liked her very much, or because she was corrupt, or most likely, they had enough of Democrats for the time being. Republicans, after all, have been winning lots of elections since 2010 — more than 1,000 seats — and many conservatives ran ahead of Trump in their own states. Certainly, this is a far more plausible explanation for Trump’s victory than Russian “hacking.”
Also, simply because Russia wanted Trump to win is not evidence of wrongdoing. “‘Putin’s preferred party’ is not a badge to wear with pride,” tweets David Frum. It certainly isn’t. It’s a shame that we haven’t been holding the line on an autocratic Russia and unfortunate that we’ve done so little to curb cyberespionage. Still, for now, Trump has only taken a troubling political position. Everyone who cared to pay attention to the election understood his views on the issue (as much as one can). Republican voters, as it turns out, were more troubled by the rise of Islamism than they are about Russians.
In the end, though, being Putin’s preferred party is no worse than being the Iranian mullahs’ preferred party. And who doubts that the Chicoms favored a Clinton presidency over a Trump one? So, please, let’s stop pretending that your preferred candidate was the bane of tyrants everywhere when we have an accounting of her business foundation’s dealings with tyrants and theocrats. No one is innocent.
Democrats, though, will never have closure on 2016. If the FBI director doesn’t find an impeachable offense, which seems likely, they will continue to feel (or act) like the election was stolen. Remember when Paul Krugman, like many on the Left, claimed the FBI “rigged the election?”
Noah Rothman lays out the consequences in Commentary:
In 2016, Democrats imprudently sought to transform the FBI director into a political actor and then feigned shock when his actions had political consequences. In the process, they helped rob America’s chief investigatory officer of his credibility. If the investigation into Donald Trump’s campaign follows a trajectory similar to the investigation into Clinton, the FBI will sap the White House of political authority and legitimacy. The expectation, however, that this investigation will result in the discovery of impeachable offenses that would justify congressional prosecution seems at this stage to be a false hope.
The anger towards Comey has only been tempered by the possibility that his Trump investigation will yield impeachable results. Yet Democrats are already asking: After testifying in front of Congress about Clinton, why didn’t Comey inform the American public about the Trump investigation?
Well, the Hillary investigations had been exhausted, and Comey reported his findings to a congressional committee looking into charges that she illegally transmitted top-secret documents, set up an server to circumvent transparency, then lied about it and attempted to cover it up. Comey confirmed all of those charges, but tacked on a standard of intent, allowing her to escape legal accountability. Comey then promised to report back to Congress if any new evidence emerged.
As it turned out a Hillary staffer was possession of emails that were supposed to be handed over to the FBI, and her husband, who was being investigated for carrying on with an underaged girl, had access to them. So Comey reported the finding to Congress with a letter. This was Hillary’s doing, not the Russians’ and not the FBI’s.
But you might also remember, back in the innocent days of late 2016, we were often lectured that the presence of an investigation didn’t automatically demonstrate guilt. As of yet, there is no evidence of anyone in the Trump campaign colluding with the Russians — much less Trump himself. Maybe, one day, there will be. Even if that day comes, it still doesn’t mean the election was “hacked.”