So now Mitch McConnell has shocked us—shocked me, certainly—by announcing that he will support an investigation into the Russian pre-election hacking. That sounds great. But what kind of investigation?
According to news accounts, McConnell said it was his view that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was “more than capable of conducting a complete review” of the matter. Those who remember what was going on with that committee a decade ago may be forgiven for having a slightly more skeptical view.
During the Iraq war, the Senate intel committee, chaired then by Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, conducted a review of what happened with the Iraq war intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. The report was to come in two phases, the second being the controversial one, because it delved into the question of whether intel was manipulated by the Bush administration for the purposes of justifying war. Phase II was delayed and delayed and was the subject of tremendous controversy from about 2004 until 2008. When it did come out, it naturally said no evidence to support claims of manipulation existed.
Roberts is long gone, and the committee is now chaired by North Carolina Republican Richard Burr, who just barely won reelection. Maybe Senator Burr is a crusader whose commitment to the full and complete truth is peerless. I guess we’ll find out.
More promisingly, McConnell said he also sees a role for John McCain’s Armed Services Committee. McCain said over the weekend that hacking is “another form of warfare.” That’s an interesting and implication-rich word choice. If McCain indeed considers this war, then by definition anyone who seeks to cover it up or otherwise ignore it is abetting an act of war against this country—in other words, is committing treason.
In the meantime, the crisis deepens almost hourly. Former CIA acting director Mike Morrell—who endorsed Hillary Clinton, it should be noted—says the Russian hacking is “the political equivalent of 9-11.” More: “A foreign government messing around in our elections is, I think, an existential threat to our way of life...It is huge and the fact that it hasn’t gotten more attention from the Obama Administration, Congress, and the mainstream media, is just shocking to me.”
In addition, retired CIA analyst turned writer and public commentator Robert Baer said we may need to re-run the election. Baer said on CNN: “The Russians, it looks like to me did interfere in our elections. We’ll never be able to decide whether they changed the outcome, but I’ll tell you having worked in the CIA if we had been caught interfering in European elections, or Asian elections, or anywhere in the world, those countries would call for new elections. Any democracy would. I mean, I don’t see it any other way.”
The first handful of electors, who are to meet December 19 to cast their Electoral College votes, has demanded that they receive intelligence briefings before doing so. The group of 10 includes just one Republican, a Texas man who’s been critical of Trump before, so it’s not going to turn many heads just yet. But the Clinton campaign endorsed the effort Monday. There are of course 538 electors, chosen differently by what the founders called the several states. What if by week’s end 50 make the same demand, or 100?
What comes next? I’ll give you a hint. It starts with “O.” Or put another way, WWOS. What will Obama say?
Many liberals I’ve spoken to since this story broke are livid that Obama didn’t say anything about all this back before the election, when the CIA first briefed the administration that its “consensus view” was that 1) the Russians did the hacking and 2) they were trying to help Trump. The president, as The Washington Post reported last Friday, wanted bipartisan cover for something so earth-shattering. When McConnell refused to grant it, Obama evidently decided against making it an issue before the vote. To exasperated liberals, this was just like the Obama of early 2009, still pleading with the Republicans to play patty-cake while they were sharpening their knives.
I think that in part we should respect Obama’s more civil instincts. Maybe he didn’t want to tear the country (farther) apart. Maybe this was one can of worms he didn’t particular want to open, since the United States may well dabble a bit in this sort of thing, too. He surely also figured, as just about everyone did, that Clinton would win, and we’d be able to skate past this grisly episode.
But she didn’t, or sort of didn’t, and here we are. Mr. President, what are you going to do? We have a week until the electors meet. I’m not definitively saying, despite the fact that Twitter will insist otherwise, that electors must not vote for Trump. Like everyone else I haven’t seen the CIA’s evidence yet, and there’s no way of knowing whether the Kremlin determined the election’s outcome.
But I am saying that we need to hear from the president. Saying what exactly? For starters, just laying out the CIA’s case. That alone will make conservatives howl. But so what? Obama’s approval rating now is up near 60 percent. As long as Obama’s words aren’t overly partisan, most fair-minded Americans will listen to him and take him seriously.
Step back and imagine this happened to any other country—that the guy who almost never led a single national poll in the late months and who was at best a 2-1 shot to win the day of the vote, and at worst a 9-1 shot, won the election; that that candidate had clearly benefited from hacks like the Wikileaks emails; and that that country’s intelligence professionals concluded that Putin was behind it all because he, Putin, wanted that guy to win.
We’d be laughing our heads off at that country. Well, they’re laughing at us now. Obama may not want to be seen as too partisan, but he surely can’t want history to say of him that an American election was defiled by a chief adversary, and he said nothing.