By Juan Cole / Informed Comment

Donald J. Trump has picked another fight with the elders of his own Republican Party, over whether Russia engaged in hacking aimed at influencing the US election. Trump has maintained that it is impossible to trace hacking attempts, that it isn’t clear who was behind them, and that he knows a lot about hacking and knows things about these incidents that the rest of us do not know, which he would reveal last Tuesday or Wednesday (he didn’t).

At one point, in Trump’s assault on the case for Russian hacking being presented by the CIA, he cited statements of Julian Assange of WikiLeaks:

This reference to Assange, who published Chelsea Manning’s copied State Department cables and who published emails of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign, infuriated official Washington, who would love to render Assange from the Ecuadoran embassy in London and execute him by firing squad.

At [Friday’s] Senate hearings on the Russian hacking, Sen. John McCain asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper whether Assange has any credibility. Clapper replied by smearing Assange with reference to the complicated and obscure Swedish sex charges against him, which actually do not speak to Assange’s credibility on whether the Russians passed him hacked emails. This ad hominem logical fallacy is typical of the sneaky and duplicitous way Clapper operates.

McCain also accused Assange of putting the lives of US intelligence professionals and their assets in danger. But McCain did not move to impeach former Bush vice president Dick Cheney, who outed CIA field officer Valerie Plame to punish her for her husband’s having revealed the emptiness of the WMD case for the Bush-Cheney illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Trump was wounded by the charges that he was supporting Assange, and replied, essentially, that retweets are not endorsement:

All twitter users consider such hedging to be disingenuous; why retweet something if you deeply disagree with it?

The entire circus was marked by outlandish self-contradiction and clownish hypocrisy.

For instance, Sen. McCain and other national security Republicans have a longstanding animus against the Putin government and so are eager to accept the Clapper case that Russia attempted to interfere in the US election.

But McCain and the other hawkish Republicans don’t want to follow their position to its logical conclusion, which is that Putin intervened to give us a Trump presidency.

If Russia did some hacking and leaking to hurt the Democrats, but did not succeed in having a big impact on the election outcome, then why is the issue so important? The Russians were ineffectual.

As for foreign hacking and spying on the US election, James Clapper for a long time was personally listening into German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s private cell phone.

Moreover, Clapper was listening in to millions Americans on American soil without a warrant, a gross violation of the fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which promises us privacy from government prying with regard to our mail and personal effects unless law enforcement can convince a judge that we are engaged in a specified crime. For all we know, US officials privy to this illegal form of wiretapping could have used the information for insider trading or self-aggrandizement or to smear politicians they didn’t like or even to affect the outcome of elections. There isn’t really any oversight over this unconstitutional activity of the Federal government, and even sitting senators who knew about it such as Ron Wyden were afraid to tell the public lest they be arrested for revealing classified information (almost everything in Washington is classified as soon as it is written down).

When Clapper was asked in Senate testimony whether US intelligence was spying on the American people, he denied it. “No,” he said:

It was the lie of our new century, the Big Lie, the ultimate Whopper.

The US NSA hacked the whole world for many years until Ed Snowden blew the whistle on them. And that was when the full extent of Clapper’s mendaciousness became clear. He should have been held in contempt of Congress. He should have been fired. But no. He got away with it.

It is extremely unclear why anyone should believe anything this proven and professional liar says.

Then Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, was asked about Trump’s tweet questioning the Russia hacking narrative. He replied that Trump was unwise to take on the intelligence community, since they had six ways to Sunday to get back at you.

So Schumer seems to have been celebrating that we are no longer a democracy, but that even an elected president has to defer to the intelligence establishment in Washington or else must fear that they will play dirty tricks on him and undermine him.

Shouldn’t the Democratic Party senate minority leader be standing for democratic values, not advising the president to shut up if he knows what’s good for him?

So to conclude, this is a sorry spectacle. Yes, Putin is a thug who should not have unilaterally annexed Crimea, and so created a European crisis that has yet to be resolved. But yes, the US has acted thuggishly– the unprovoked and monstrous invasion of Iraq is a recent example– and US aggressiveness toward Moscow after the collapse of the Soviet Union bears some of the blame for Russia’s bullying insecurity. And yes, Russia likely engaged in hacking during the US election and hoped to tilt the playing field toward Trump; but they likely failed to have any significant effect on the outcome. And yes, Clapper and other US intelligence officials have hacked everybody and his brother both abroad and inside the US, so they are hardly morally superior to Putin.

Now we have a food fight full of ignorance and hypocrisy or both, in which the Washington Establishment professes itself shocked, shocked that any hacking of one country by another could have gone on. Trump has continued his creepy bromance with the Kremlin and wants to get his information from any source that agrees with his prejudices. The Democrats have taken advantage of the story to paint Trump as a Manchurian candidate, and some of them seem to delight in the idea that Trump may provoke the CIA to do to him what Oliver Stone thinks it did to JFK.

Nobody and nothing here to admire.

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