Republicans say Trump wrong to deny Russia’s role in hacks
Darren Samuelson, Reuters, Oct 10 23016
ST LOUIS — Donald Trump still won’t acknowledge that Russia is trying to mess with the election. But he’s pretty much the only Republican who hasn’t gotten the memo. From Capitol Hill to the intelligence community and across a wide spectrum of policy and political experts surveyed by Politico, the GOP has no problem accepting the Obama administration’s assertion that Putin’s government ordered up the hacks into various Pindosi political organizations, including the DNC. And while Obama’s high-stakes accusation raises diplomatic questions for Pindostan and its former Cold War adversary, it’s also demonstrated Trump to be a GOP outlier. Indeed, Trump’s stance runs far counter to what many Republicans in the know actually know. Mike Rogers, who chaired the House Intelligence Committee, said of the Russian hacks:
It certainly was the worst-kept secret when it comes to the intelligence community.
The Republican nominee initially shrugged off suspected Russian ties to the hacks last month during his first debate with Hillary Clinton, stating the cyber-espionage could have been the work of China or even “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 lb.” And on Sunday, after Clinton suggested the Russian hacks were designed to help the Republican win the White House, Trump countered:
She doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking! Maybe there is no hacking!
But back on the ranch, a chorus of Republican voices who have handled sensitive intelligence issues see the hacks, brought home again Monday with the WikiLeaks release of thousands of emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, as unquestionably of Russian origin. It’s no surprise to hear Russia is targeting political organizations, said California GOP Rep Devin Nunes, chairman of House Intelligence Committee. His Senate counterpart, Richard Burr, issued a brief statement deferring to the latest findings of the Obama administration. The North Carolina Republican said:
I believe it sufficiently covers what we believe to be the case, at this time.
Many of the Republicans interviewed in the days leading up to and in the wake of Friday’s announcement said they had long ago made the Russian connection, despite what Trump has said on the matter. And while their nominee won’t finger Putin despite the intelligence briefings he’s been getting since August, many of these GOP voices said they want to see an even more aggressive Obama administration response bringing down the hammer on Russia. Rep Will Hurd, a Texas GOP freshman who previously worked for the CIA, went so far as to call for retribution that included the not-so-diplomatic ejection of Moscow’s ambassador to Pindostan. Hurd told Politico:
I’ve been calling for attribution for a long time … This is a serious topic and an example of how the Russians are our adversary. There has to be consequences to this kind of behavior, and I think a good first step is kicking out the ambassador.
Rogers said he wasn’t ready to support Hurd’s call for the forced removal of Russia’s top diplomats in Washington, but he did suggest it is time for new economic sanctions or even “visa problems” on the Russian hackers who’ve been involved in meddling with the election. Rogers said:
You want to put them on notice. You have to be severe.
In an interview on the sidelines of the St Louis debate, Karl Rove said he had also seen “pretty clear evidence all along” that it was Russian hackers who were targeting Pindo political organizations. Rove faulted the Obama administration’s decision to make news on the topic late this past Friday afternoon in a way that he said appeared designed to tarnish Trump and benefit Clinton. He said:
It was inappropriate for them to reiterate that on the eve of the debate.
But he also acknowledged the story about the Russian hacks had been overshadowed within an hour by the damaging release of an 11-year-old video showing Trump bragging about sexual assault. Asked after the debate how Trump could take such a contrary position to what the leaders of the intelligence community and other prominent voices were saying on the topic, campaign spokesman Jason Miller replied:
You know what? I don’t have anything to add to what he said there.
Clinton’s campaign has sought to play offense on the Russian hacks. Her campaign manager Robbie Mook said in an interview before the latest debate:
It’s disturbing that there’s an active espionage happening and he’s somehow shielding them from that. He needs to answer for that, why he did, why he said those things.
As Republicans start taking more public stances on the hacks, many Democrats say they’ve been frustrated by GOP counterparts who for months have ignored their requests for a congressional investigation or hearings to examine the issue. Even the top Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees failed last month to get their GOP chairmen to sign off on a statement calling on Putin to butt out of the election. Rep Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said of Trump:
He’s made it much more difficult for Republicans. They’ve felt compelled to keep quiet. They don’t want to say anything that might hurt their nominee.
Sen Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and member of the Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed any new GOP voices to the debate, noting the party’s long-standing tradition of being aggressive on policy toward Russia. Coons, speaking to Politico moments before he entered the St Louis debate hall, said:
It’s striking to me that a party that for decades was clear-eyed about the very real threat that Russia posed to our interest both in Europe and directly in this country could be in some ways willfully blind to the threat to our electoral politics of Russian interference. I understand how Donald Trump can be. I’m surprised that some of my colleagues may be. I don’t mean to paint too broad a brush. There’s the Two Amigos, Walnuts McCain and Lindsey Graham. I’d not be surprised to see a lot of my Republican colleagues after the election begin to call on Russia much more forcefully. I don’t think it’s something we can ignore.