President Obama has ordered his intelligence agencies to conduct a review of hacking during the 2016 presidential election and present their findings before he leaves office. Alleged Russian hacking during the election might also become part of a broader Senate probe into Russian cyber-threats.
Donald Trump has been dismissive of reports of Russian interference and critical of the U.S. intelligence community for assessing that Russia interfered. He insists that the hacking of DNC emails might have been done by “some guy in his home in New Jersey.”
It’s natural that Trump doesn’t want anyone crediting Russian interference for his stunning electoral victory. And it’s possible that Obama has ordered the probe for just that purpose. The president likely sees Trump’s win as a huge stain on his legacy.
But this doesn’t mean the probe is a bad idea. In my view, it’s worth investigating possible Russian cyber-incursions of all sorts. Our national security is at stake.
Sen. John McCain is particularly concerned about cyber-incursions into U.S. weapons systems. Reportedly, he has been discussing an investigation of this matter with Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of the Select Intelligence Committee. Sen. Bob Corker, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, has also said he will investigate Russian hacking (assuming he doesn’t become Secretary of State).
Any congressional investigation of Russia’s cyber-security threat likely would spill over into a probe of hacking relating to U.S. elections, and should. As McCain says, “the problem with hacking is that it they’re able to disrupt elections, then it’s a national security issue.”
An investigation led by Senate Republicans has the virtue of being non-partisan. The Obama administration investigation will be vulnerable to charges of partisanship and sour grapes. It’s a stretch, if not a slander, to believe that our intelligence community would falsely find Russian hacking in order to provide the Democrats with a talking point. But that doesn’t mean Trump won’t make the claim.
Trump should overcome his vanity and welcome probes into the extent of Russian cyber-interference in a full array of American activities and operations, including the presidential election. If he doesn’t, the president-elect will be vulnerable to claims that he wants to cover up Russian misconduct, not just to prevent any disparagement of his electoral victory, but also in order to stay on the good side of Vladimir Putin.