The Washington Post reports that American intelligence agencies intercepted communications showing that senior officials in the Russian government “celebrated Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton as a geopolitical win for Moscow.” The Post says the communications also show that “Russian officials congratulated themselves on the outcome.”
Celebrating would mean that the officials in question wanted Trump to win. Congratulations would suggest that Russia tried to help him win.
Without seeing the intercepted communications, it’s impossible to say whether either characterization — celebration or congratulation — is accurate. The person leaking this information to the Post may be mischaracterizing or exaggerating what the documents show. Indeed, the Post notes that this type of information, known as “signals intelligence,” is treated by analysts with caution because statements can be taken out of context and sophisticated adversaries including the Kremlin are adept at spreading disinformation.
We also don’t know who the “senior Russian officials” in question are and whether their apparent partiality to Trump reflected government policy.
In addition, the Post reports that Russian officials were “as surprised as the rest of the world” by Trump’s victory. I think this shows, at a minimum, that helping Trump win could not have been the only motive for the hacking.
For what it’s worth, the people I trust when it comes to intelligence issues — all conservatives, all pro-Trump in the general election — believe that the Russian government very likely was behind the hacking of the emails of John Podesta and the DNC. They are not convinced that the intent was to help Trump, but they don’t rule this out as a motive.
One of them thinks the Russians would have been happy with either Clinton or Trump as president — a sad commentary, if true.
The Post’s story suggests they are happier with Trump. It’s a plausible, though not indisputable, view even without the intercepted communications.
Trump signaled throughout the campaign that he was open a fresh start with Putin’s Russia. He also disparaged NATO.
Clinton, of course, had tried a fresh start with the Russia “reset,” but was well past that thinking in 2016. Indeed, intelligence officials are said to believe that Putin holds a grudge against Clinton, whom he accused of fomenting demonstrations in Moscow in 2011 and 2012 that supposedly embarrassed him and rattled confidence in his grip on power.
This may be true or it may not be. But Clinton certainly talked tougher about Russia than Trump did during the campaign. On the other hand, Trump talker tougher about building up our military — a policy of some interest to Putin, presumably.
None of this matters much to me at this point. What matters right now is whether Trump is able to review the evidence of Russian hacking presented to him by our intelligence agencies objectively, uninfluenced by his pride in winning the election. He needs to distinguish between two questions — (1) did Russia hack certain email accounts and (2) did he win the election because of Russian hacking — and focus solely on the former. (It would also be nice if he would stop publicly bad-mouthing our intelligence services).
So far the signs aren’t encouraging. The fact that the signs consist mostly of tweets is, to me, particularly discouraging.