Bonfire of the Intel Vanities: Putin Is the Winner

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL – What a spectacle. Two weeks before a peaceful democratic transition of power, Democrats are using Russian cyber hacks as an excuse to explain their defeat, and Donald Trump is playing into their hands by refusing to acknowledge that Vladimir Putin is no friend of America. The only winner here is Mr. Putin, who must be laughing at his success in causing Americans to mistrust their own democratic system.
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The U.S. intelligence community (IC) late Friday finally released a declassified version of the report on Russian hacking that President Obama had requested before he leaves office. The surprise is how thin it is. The report is made up mostly of top-line conclusions, while seven of the 25 pages are devoted to RT, Mr. Putin’s propaganda arm whose anti-Americanism is well known.

The IC report says it couldn’t release details without betraying intelligence sources or methods, but that didn’t stop leakers from whispering some of those details to NBC and the Washington Post. The Post reported that the U.S. overheard Russian officials gloating after Mr. Trump’s victory, saying it would be good for Russian interests. A fair inference is that White House officials authorized those leaks to embarrass Mr. Trump and suggest the election was stolen by the Kremlin.

The report concludes “with high confidence” that Mr. Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election” to “undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.” It also concludes that Mr. Putin “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

Yet the report offers no evidence or judgment that the hacking influenced the election result. The leaks from Clinton aide John Podesta’s email and the Democratic National Committee were embarrassing in their candid views of individuals, but they included no bombshells. The emails that really hurt Mrs. Clinton’s electability were those she kept on a private server while Secretary of State.

American voters were also well aware of the Russian meddling during the campaign, since Democrats made so much of it. “You encouraged espionage against our people,” Mrs. Clinton said to Mr. Trump in the third debate. “You are willing to spout the Putin line, sign up for his wish list, break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do. And that you continue to get help from him because he has a very clear favorite in this race.”

She lost anyway, and for reasons unrelated to the Kremlin. But Democrats and the left want to maintain the stolen-election line because they want to undermine the Republican ability to govern and repeal the Obama agenda that voters rejected at the polls.

As for Mr. Trump, he keeps playing this poorly even by the needs of his own political interests. For weeks he insisted that the Russians may not have done the hacking, though WikliLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 are favorite Russian outlets. He picked needless fights with the intelligence services he will soon need as President. He even cited Julian Assange’s claim that Russia wasn’t the source of WikiLeaks’s campaign dump of Democratic emails, as if Mr. Assange isn’t a practiced liar and deeply anti-American.

The smart line from the beginning would have been to denounce the hack, acknowledge that Russia has been acting in ways that harm the U.S., and say that Mr. Putin should stop or face consequences once Mr. Trump is President. Mr. Trump could also say that if Mr. Obama had retaliated sooner against Russia, the election hacks might not have happened.

Instead, Mr. Trump’s denial of Russian reality makes him look like a sap for Mr. Putin. “Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only ‘stupid’ people, or fools, would think that it is bad!” he tweeted on Saturday. He added: “We have enough problems around the world without yet another one. When I am President, Russia will respect us far more than they do now.”

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