A declassified joint intelligence report released on Friday by the NSA, CIA, and FBI concluded in shocking detail that Russia's President Vladimir Putin directly ordered a campaign to influence the U.S. elections. It's stunning evidence that Russia aimed to favor President-elect Donald Trump in the election and undermine his rival, Hillary Clinton, which should be a scary revelation for anyone who believes in the democratic process. But in the immediate aftermath, Trump's tweets about the Russia election tampering report are terrifying in themselves.
The report detailed Russia's efforts to influence the U.S. presidential election through a series of cyber activities, trolling and covert operations all aimed to "help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him," according to the New York Times.
The president-elect was briefed on the classified version of the report on Friday, and though he said that he had "tremendous respect" for the intelligence community, he stopped short of actually confirming if he accepted the report as legitimate. This comes after months of insistence from Trump that the Russians had nothing to do with the election or the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails that were handed over to WikiLeaks.
A series of tweets from the president-elect on Friday evening and Saturday morning seem to indicate, however, that Trump is still unwilling to accept that the DNC hack intentionally targeted the Democratic Party and, more specifically, its presidential candidate.
This seems to be an informal version of the statement Trump's camp released 10 minutes after the briefing, in which he noted that the DNC had been hacked by Russia and that the RNC had foiled the country's attempts. "There were attempts to hack the Republican National Committee, but the RNC had strong hacking defenses and the hackers were unsuccessful," the statement said.
Trump continued to tweet his thoughts on the report early Saturday morning, assuring the American public (or his Twitter followers, at least) that Russia did not tamper with voting machines and furthering the idea that the DNC's email hack was its own fault, not Russia's.
Part of the missive is true: the report did say that Russia didn't interfere with voting machines. But there are shades of gray that Trump is either willingly not introducing into the conversation or couldn't fit in 140 characters. The intelligence report didn't conclude that the hacking had no effect on the election results. No, they didn't directly change votes, but the report did not include an assessment on if Putin's goal to undermine Clinton and lean the election toward Trump was successful. So, at this point, the intelligence community does not have evidence for or against the idea that Russia's hacking affected the outcome.
And, to end his Saturday morning tweet storm, Trump went on to extol the values of having a good relationship with Russia. You know, the country that the report just said wanted to swing the election toward Trump.
His official statement similarly dodged condemning Russia. In fact, it mentioned the country exactly once:
While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines. There were attempts to hack the Republican National Committee, but the RNC had strong hacking defenses and the hackers were unsuccessful.
In essence, Trump's assessment of this groundbreaking piece of intelligence is, "just don't worry about it!" Let's move on from the fact that Putin had a direct order to influence our democratic process and just focus on the relationship. Oh, and the DNC's technology sucks.
That's a worrisome response from our incoming president about another country's attempts, successful or not, to undermine our election process. I wonder how his response might differ if it was Clinton, not Trump, who was about to move into the White House.