Friday 18 August 2017

Trump clearly cares nothing for Russian assault on US democracy

Former FBI director James Comey departs after testifying before a closed session of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday. Photo: Reuters/Aaron P Bernstein.
Former FBI director James Comey departs after testifying before a closed session of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday. Photo: Reuters/Aaron P Bernstein.

Jennifer Rubin

For months, US President Donald Trump has been calling the Russia investigation "fake news".

He has insisted that China or some other country could have been behind the hack of the Democratic Party organisations' computers and the effort to meddle in our elections.

In his eyes, it's all a plot to undermine him, and he was "vindicated" when it was confirmed that at the time former FBI director James Comey left the FBI, there was no investigation with his name on it. Contrast that with this line of questioning from Thursday's hearing:

Republican Senator Richard Burr: "Do you have any doubt that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 elections?"

Former FBI director James Comey: "None".

Burr: "Do you have any doubt that the Russian government was behind the intrusions in the D triple-C systems [the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] and the subsequent leaks of that information?"

Comey: "No, no doubt."

Burr: "Do you have any doubt the Russian government was behind the cyber intrusion in the state voter files?"

Comey: "No."

Burr: "Are you confident that no votes cast in the 2016 presidential election were altered?"

Comey: "I'm confident. When I left as director, I had seen no indication of that whatsoever."

In that same vein, Mr Comey explained how definitive was the information:

Democrat Senator Martin Heinrich: "The president has repeatedly talked about the Russian investigation into the US - or Russia's involvement in the US election cycle as a hoax and fake news. Can you talk a little bit about what you saw as FBI director and, obviously, only the parts you can share in this setting that demonstrate how serious this action was and why there was an investigation in the first place?"

Comey: "Yes, sir. There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever. The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle. They did it with purpose. They did it with sophistication. They did it with overwhelming technical efforts. It was an active measures campaign driven from the top of that government. There is no fuzz on that. It is a high-confidence judgment of the entire intelligence community, and the members of this committee have seen the intelligence. It's not a close call. That happened. That's about as unfake as you can possibly get. It is very, very serious, which is why it's so refreshing to see a bipartisan focus on that. This is about America, not a particular party."

Heinrich: "That is a hostile act by the Russian government against this country?"

Comey: "Yes, sir."

One simply cannot square the president's persistent public assertions that the Russia investigation was "fake news" or a "hoax" with such a definitive assessment from the former FBI director and the rest of the intelligence community. This raises the question as to why Mr Trump kept suggesting that the Russians couldn't be fingered.

Perhaps Mr Trump knew Russia was responsible (everyone in the intelligence community told him it was beyond dispute) but lied to the American people so as to convince them that he really, really won.

Maybe Mr Trump is unable to process facts or think logically, preferring rumours, conspiracy theories and the like. In other words, maybe he honestly did not understand what was going on.

Then again, Mr Trump - if he was trying to remain in Russian President Vladimir Putin's good graces - could have simply been covering for the former KGB lieutenant colonel.

Whatever the reason, he persistently told the public an obvious falsehood, pretending that there had been no assault on American democracy. He needs to explain this disparity.

It is also possible that Mr Trump and the intelligence community were talking past one another. Mr Trump thinks of the Russia investigation as a "cloud" over him. If the story was that Mr Trump personally colluded with Russia, then it had to be "fake news". That, after all, was the reason he was frantic to have Mr Comey clear his name.

This truly is a case in which Mr Trump considered the "Russia investigation" to be only about him.

The intelligence community and Mr Comey, specifically, were of course definitive about an attack on American democracy.

Mr Comey declared: "The reason this is such a big deal. We have this big messy wonderful country where we fight with each other all the time. But nobody tells us what to think, what to fight about, what to vote for except other Americans. And that's wonderful and often painful. But we're talking about a foreign government that using technical intrusion, lots of other methods tried to shape the way we think, we vote, we act. That is a big deal. And people need to recognise it. It's not about Republicans or Democrats. They're coming after America, which I hope we all love equally. They want to undermine our credibility.... They think that this great experiment of ours is a threat to them. So they're going to try to run it down and dirty it up as much as possible. That's what this is about and they will be back. Because we remain - as difficult as we can be with each other, we remain that shining city on the hill. And they don't like it."

That entire concept - the threat to democracy, the danger to the US system of government, the violation of American self-government by a hostile power - seems to mean nothing to Mr Trump. It's a non-issue.

What more evidence do we need that Mr Trump cannot fulfil his oath to "preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States"?

Trump's psyche is geared to "preserve, protect and defend" Trump. A president who could care less about an attack on American sovereignty is by definition incapable of performing the most fundamental part of his job: acting as commander in chief. (© Washington Post Syndication)

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