This Washington Post report about the struggle inside the White House is huge, comprehensive, detailed, and raises some serious questions.
It begins with a delivery to the White House early last August, limited to four pairs of eyes:
Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.
But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.
That bombshell launched an ongoing war room of sorts, limited to just a few White House officials for the purpose of developing an appropriate response to Russian interference in our free and fair elections.
The video at the top is the audio-visual version of the story, or you can read it all here. It's far too detailed to summarize in this post.
Much of the story's details have emerged in the last six months, but this story is more about what happened inside the administration as intelligence was obtained and relayed to President Obama. Was his response appropriate, or did he "choke," as one unnamed official says?
Charlie Pierce says he choked.
However, like so many things about the Obama administration, the response to what the Russians did was measured and allegedly proportional. ("I feel like we choked," one official told the Post.) But, you may ask, what about the election that was going on at the same time the Obama administration was retaliating for Russian interference in its process?
They were concerned that any pre-election response could provoke an escalation from Putin. Moscow's meddling to that point was seen as deeply concerning but unlikely to materially affect the outcome of the election. Far more worrisome to the Obama team was the prospect of a cyber-assault on voting systems before and on Election Day. They also worried that any action they took would be perceived as political interference in an already volatile campaign. By August, Trump was predicting that the election would be rigged. Obama officials feared providing fuel to such claims, playing into Russia's efforts to discredit the outcome and potentially contaminating the expected Clinton triumph.
This, right here. This is where they choked. The American people had damned close to an absolute right to the information their government already had. The most fundamental act of citizenship is the right to cast an informed vote. The idea that the Obama administration withheld the fact that the Russians were ratfcking the election in order to help elect a vulgar talking yam is a terrible condemnation of the whole No Drama Obama philosophy. Would Donald Trump have raised hell if the White House released what it knew? Of course, he would have. But, as it was, the American people went to vote with only about half of the information they needed to assess his candidacy. This was a terrible decision.
Back in December, I wrote about the news of Mitch McConnell's skepticism about the intelligence itself as well as his threat to politicize it, should the administration go public. It was a very real threat, and one he would have had unlimited dollars and media attention to exploit.
AND, at the very same time McConnell was making his threats, James Comey refused to sign his name to any report confirming what they knew because it was too close to the election. That too, is in the Washington Post report.
I have been saying for months that the hacks into the DNC computers and attempts to compromise state voter databases were the equivalent of a 21st century Watergate break-in. But now this has taken a deeper, darker, more sinister tone even than Watergate, where at least it was engineered by Americans.
Mitch McConnell, James Comey and others intentionally aided and abetted foreign aggression against American democracy.
What Comey did may be even worse, because he not only permitted foreign aggression to continue undisclosed, but also inserted himself and the FBI into the election in a different way but with the same goal: To tilt the result toward Donald Trump.
While I agree with Pierce that we had an absolute right to know, I cannot envision the scenario where our media and our political establishment acknowledge that this is an attack on our country, just without bombs, because key players would not actually speak the truth.
So is it a choke for Obama not to go out on his own? No backup from the other party who has been privy to the same briefings he was, but instead the threat of politicization? Really?
To me, Comey's refusal to sign off on a public statement in September, combined with McConnell's refusal to be a patriot, left Obama in an untenable position. I don't see how it plays out in a way which possibly leaves voters informed. Instead, it would have been even more confusing with one side claiming it was all a lie and the other side saying they had hard information, and the guy who runs counterintelligence keeping his mouth shut.
It couldn't have ended well. It didn't end well. If I have one criticism, I think it's that they didn't declassify more of the information before Obama left office, in order to keep it from being buried by the illegitimately elected administration controlling its disposition now.
No matter what you may think of what Obama should or should not have done, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that a foreign country interfered in our election process in deep, still-to-be-discovered ways, and was aided and abetted by Senator Mitch McConnell.
If we don't grasp that as a country, we are probably going to find ourselves annexed to Russia.