Dismissing the fact that Russia “intended to interfere with the U.S. election process” is a short-sided and partisan reaction to a genuine threat from an illiberal regime. Overreacting to these events, and creating the impression that Vladimir Putin possesses some transcendent power to overturn the system and control your votes, is equally unhelpful for anyone who isn’t simply attempting to delegitimize an election.
Despite the suggestion of some clumsy headline writers, there’s no evidence (so far) that Russians tampered with votes or changed the outcome of 2016 in any tangible way. Fortunately, even if Putin had tried, our regional, decentralized voting system — the sort of system many Democrats would like to federalize — makes it virtually impossible for anyone to hack an American election.
This fact hasn’t stopped some from making reckless charges about the legitimacy of Trump’s win. “Did the combination of Russian and F.B.I. intervention swing the election? Yes. Mrs. Clinton lost three states — Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — by less than a percentage point, and Florida by only slightly more,” Paul Krugman recently wrote. Neither he, nor any of the other people making similar assertions, have any real evidence to back up the contention.
Now, if Krugman is talking about the Comey letter, that’s on Hillary Clinton, who attempted to circumvent the law and lied about it. If we’re talking about the hacks of the Democratic National Committee, the idea that some inside-baseball emails from political operatives changed millions of minds is both unknowable and highly unlikely. Moreover, the information voters were offered by these hacks, however inexcusable it was to illegally obtain it, happened to be true.
Yet John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, is now backing a request by 538 partisan Electoral College members — including the daughter of the minority leader of the House and a bunch of other people who know nothing about hacking or intelligence — to review CIA briefings to determine if Trump should be president. Podesta:
The bipartisan electors’ letter raises very grave issues involving our national security. Electors have a solemn responsibility under the Constitution and we support their efforts to have their questions addressed. We now know that the CIA has determined Russia’s interference in our elections was for the purpose of electing Donald Trump. This should distress every American.
The idea that the founder of The Center for American Progress feels a solemn responsibility to the Constitution is risible, at best. But okay. The Electoral College — the integral function of stable American governance that most Democrats want to trash — was devised to ensure “that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” I’m far less horrified by the idea of overruling the electorate than most Americans are, if there’s a good reason for it. This is why we have electors.
It is not, as far as I can tell, however, the job of those electors to sift through intelligence reports they don’t understand to determine what foreign powers are up to. It’s not their job to get security clearances to make decisions on information that the rest of the electorate can’t see. If there’s any evidence that Trump colluded with Putin (or any foreign government) to hack the DNC or to win an election — and I’m sorry, a dumb throwaway comment attacking the media won’t do — it would be traitorous. Release it.
I don’t believe Russia intervention changed the outcome of election.
But to deny CIA evidence of direct hacking is traitorous.
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) December 11, 2016
Here are some things that aren’t traitorous:
Questioning a leak from someone at the CIA.
Questioning the motives of Democratic Party operatives who latch onto that leak.
Questioning the extent and influence of Russian hacks.
Now, I remember a time when everything a CIA source leaked to the public wasn’t immediately believed (I also remember when the CIA itself was hacking American politicians). I also remember when the CIA couldn’t ever get anything right. We already know that the FBI doesn’t share the CIA’s confidence about Russia’s hacking motives or reach. Neither do the heads of the U.S. intelligence community. So accusing of sedition anyone who doesn’t freak out about Russia is despicable. Many of us find Trump’s inclination to be sympathetic to Russia just as disturbing as President Obama’s inclination to be sympathetic to Islamists of Iran. Still, it’s not a reason to overturn presidencies.
What can we do, anyway? The Obama administration has ordered a review. The Republican Senate Intelligence Committee, the Armed Services Committee, and the Foreign Relations Committee are all going to conduct reviews. Are we going to cancel elections every time someone hacks us? Because China, Russia, and others have been engaged in this behavior for years.