Political News

Donald Trump's dangerous denialism on Russia

Posted September 22

Before most people were awake this morning, the President of the United States was tweeting. About Russia. And Hillary Clinton. And the news media.

"The Russia hoax continues, now it's ads on Facebook," Trump tweeted. "What about the totally biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?" (Why is "Media" capitalized? I ask myself these questions all the time.)

Then, shortly after that first tweet came this one: "The greatest influence over our election was the Fake News Media 'screaming' for Crooked Hillary Clinton. Next, she was a bad candidate!"

In the first tweet, Trump was reacting directly to the news announced Thursday afternoon that Facebook was turning over to special counsel Robert Mueller more than 3,000 ads run on its site by a known Russian troll farm. The second tweet was more standard-issue Trumping -- downplaying Russian influence by trying to make the case that the biased media and Clinton's candidate skills were the only factors in the race.

The problem with that line of thinking is that it's a) wrong and b) leaves the US open to future intrusions by foreign powers on our elections.

How is it wrong? Because every intelligence agency in a position to know has said there is definitive proof Russia was seeking to meddle in the 2016 election with the purpose of helping Trump and hurting Clinton. The CIA. The FBI. The NSA.

This comes straight from the Intelligence Community Assessment document released in January:

"We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments."

Unless you believe that all three of our major intelligence agencies are involved in some sort of elaborate scheme to trump -- ahem -- up the idea that Russia sought to influence the election on behalf of Trump, then the president's charges of "hoax" ring totally false.

Trump's national security H.R. McMaster insisted to CNN's "New Day" on Thursday that Trump took seriously the allegations against Russia.

"The questions about what they did, who might have helped them and how to stop it, you believe those are all legitimate questions for us to look at?," host Chris Cuomo asked.

"Of course, and so does the President," replied McMaster.

But his tweets tell another story. Why would Trump knowingly defy the unanimous assessment of his intelligence agencies on Russian influence? Because, in his mind, validating that, yes, of course, Russia sought to meddle in the election somehow de-legitimizes his victory. As if the fact that Russia was actively involved in trying to help him means he didn't win on his own or didn't win fair and square.

That is, obviously, not true. While all the relevant intelligence agencies agree that Russia sought to meddle in the election on Trump's behalf, none of them have come forward with any evidence that suggests any actual vote tampering occurred. As in: Russia tried to help Trump but it's not clear -- at least when it comes to directly messing with votes -- they succeeded.

Trump is blind -- willfully or otherwise -- to that set of facts.

The insistence by Trump that the news media's role in the campaign was somehow more threatening than a foreign power's attempt to influence an American election is mind-boggling.

It's also dangerous. Here's why.

Every intelligence official -- from former FBI Director James Comey to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper -- agrees that Russia views their role in the 2016 election as a success and that they will be back for more come 2018 and 2020.

"I think one of the lessons the Russians may have drawn from this is that this works," Comey said at a Judiciary Committee hearing in May. "And so as I said a month or so ago, I expect to see them back in 2018, and especially in 2020."

By minimizing the threat posed by Russians trying to influence US elections, Trump is ensuring that whatever Mueller finds will be seen through a totally partisan lens by many of his followers. It won't be taken at face value or anything close to it.

And, that's not even the biggest problem! The biggest problem is that the president of the United States has repeatedly and publicly denied the idea that Russia was involved in trying to throw the election to him. That means that whatever recommendations Mueller -- and the congressional committees also investigating Russia's role in 2016 -- make to Trump about how to keep this from happening again are likely to be ignored or minimized.

Which, in turn, makes it more likely to happen again. That's dangerous for our democracy.

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