Make public all Russian election hacking and influence op intel. Now.
Electoral College electors deserve all the facts before casting their votes
In the wake of the most remarkable presidential election in at least a century, we now face the very real possibility that “We, the People” didn’t actually make the final choice about who will run the executive branch and effectively set national policy for the next four years. Instead, #Election2016 may have been hijacked by former Soviet KGB officer-turned-Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, according to a still-secret assessment produced by my former employer, the Central Intelligence Agency.
Presumably, it is this CIA assessment, among other things, that seven Senators were referencing in a cryptic declassification request sent to President Obama on November 29. As the Senators in question no doubt had the chance to read said assessment before they sent the letter, we can say with a high degree of confidence that the CIA assessment was completed and circulated to the Senate (and presumably the House) Intelligence Committee sometime between November 9 (the day after the election) and November 28 (the day before the letter was sent to Obama). What we also know with certainty is that Obama, as commander-in-chief, received his copy of the assessment and a briefing on it before anybody on Capitol Hill got it. The Presidential Daily Brief is a decades-long practice in which the chief executive gets the “latest and greatest” intelligence from the Director of National Intelligence (and prior to 2004, the Director of Central Intelligence) first thing in the morning.
Bottom line: Obama knew before any other policy maker that the Russian government attempted — and possibly succeeded — in altering the outcome of an American presidential election to Russia’s (at least theoretical) advantage. So, the obvious and deeply troubling question is this: why did Obama not make the CIA assessment, and all supporting raw intelligence used in its production, public within a day of receiving it?
It’s possible he believes the CIA’s case is not as strong as the CIA asserts. The Washington Post has a story out today in which several House and Senate members are reported as being at odds about the report because the FBI has refused to be as definitive as the CIA in reaching the conclusion that Putin’s government threw our election. For me, two paragraphs in that story tell you what you need to know about why the FBI suddenly has cold feet about anything election-related:
The FBI is not sold on the idea that Russia had a particular aim in its meddling. “There’s no question that [the Russians’] efforts went one way, but it’s not clear that they have a specific goal or mix of related goals,” said one U.S. official.
The murky nature of the assessments is maddening many lawmakers who are demanding answers about the Kremlin’s role in the presidential race. The FBI, under Director James B. Comey, is already under fire for dropping a bombshell letter days before the election on the discovery of new emails potentially related to the Clinton private server investigation. The emails proved irrelevant to the case. On Saturday, outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) called on Comey to resign, saying the FBI director deliberately kept quiet evidence about Russia’s motives before the election.
The notion that Putin and the Russian government don’t have “particular” aims in their actions abroad — whether trying to hijack our election or by intervening in Syria — is beyond obtuse. Senator Angus King (I-ME) gets it:
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the intelligence community’s information needs to be made public “not to revisit this election, but to see that this doesn’t happen again.” Russia regularly tries to influence European politics and elections, “and I don’t want this to be the case here,” he said.
King said he does not believe Moscow’s efforts end with Trump’s election. “It could happen in the midterms. It could be in the next presidential election. They have shown us that they are capable and willing to do it here. For us not to react with the highest level of investigation and preparing responsive measures would be negligent,” he said.
King is wrong on one critical point, however. We need this information made public precisely because if it is true, we do need to revisit this election — immediately. Even if President Obama has doubts about the CIA’s case, this issue is too important for him to decide unilaterally to slow-roll the release of this data until his successor has already been chosen. The American public deserves to have the same information Obama and the Congress have on this issue so that, if necessary, we can undo what the Russian government has allegedly done.
Under our system of government, the people who can help us do that are the Electoral College electors, who meet on December 19 in their respective state capitols to cast their votes for president and vice president. Those electors, and the public on whose behalf they will act, deserve to have the full available facts about Russia’s attempts to subvert our political process before they chose who will lead America for the next four years.
President Obama can make that happen with the stroke of his pen, declassifying every bit of finished and raw intelligence our Intelligence Community has collected on Russian activities aimed at our electoral process well before the December 19 Electoral College meeting. If he fails to do so, he will bear direct, personal responsibility for helping undermine our republican form of government — the very thing his oath of office requires him to avoid at all cost.
The mistake the seven Senators made in their declassification request letter to Obama was in not giving him a deadline to make the information public. They should do so now and tell him that if he has not made the information public by close of business on December 12 — one week before the Electoral College meets — they will take to the Senate floor during Tuesday’s pro forma session and read into the record everything in their possession on Russian interference in our election.
I’m not holding my breath that they will do this, but if these same Senators truly believe the CIA’s evidence of Russian interference — or even steering — of our 2016 presidential election is credible, they have a duty to communicate that evidence to American voters, and now.