As President Obama pointed his finger directly at the Russians over election year hacking of Democratic Party aides, intelligence officials are now presenting a united front about Russian involvement in the 2016 race for President, as Mr. Obama defended the conclusions of the U.S. Intelligence Community.
“The intelligence that I’ve seen gives me great confidence in their assessment that the Russians carried out this hack,” the President said, blaming Russia for getting emails both from the Democratic National Committee and top Hillary Clinton aide John Podesta.
Here’s a quick review of where we are on this story:
1. The CIA and FBI now reportedly on the same page. The big news from Friday were reports that the CIA Director had told his agency that the FBI Director now agreed that Russia was trying not only to interfere with the U.S. election, but also to support Donald Trump in the process. At his year-end news conference, President Obama did not confirm that report specifically, but made clear to reporters that he believes the assessment that Russia was behind the email hacks of the DNC and top Clinton aide John Podesta. “Not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin,” Mr. Obama said.
2. Republicans complain about lack of intel cooperation. For the second time this week, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee publicly criticized top intelligence officials for refusing to brief lawmakers on the Russia interference investigation. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) – a close ally of President-Elect Trump – said lawmakers have not been given “any information” that indicates some new assessment, as he complained about leaks about the Russia investigation.
3. After GOP barb, the Intel Community responds. It didn’t take long for intelligence officials to respond to the complaints of Rep. Nunes, as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper swiftly issued a public reply, defending the work on the Russia matter. Notable in this statement was that Clapper alluded to requests from members of the Electoral College for a full rundown on the Russia investigation. Clapper again stated that U.S. officials believe the Russians were behind the email hacks of the DNC and John Podesta, name checking Guccifer 2.0, and “Russia’s senior-most officials.”
4. Democratic lawmakers pounce on Russia meddling, while GOP looks elsewhere. The great thing about social media is that when a story breaks while the Congress is out of town, you can get a good feel right away on what lawmakers are thinking. As news spread that the FBI and CIA were now on board with their assessment of Russian election interference, there were a number of Democrats speaking out and demanding investigations. One of the few Republicans directly commenting was Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.
5. A big switch by both parties on Russia. It was just four years ago that Mitt Romney was mercilessly mocked by Democrats – and President Obama – for saying that Moscow represented the biggest foreign policy threat for the United States. Republicans chafed at Mr. Obama’s criticism. Now, most of the GOP has joined President-Elect Trump in turning away from years of steadfast opposition to the Russians, while Democrats have suddenly veered away from their abuse of Romney, as they embrace the almost total suspicion of Vladimir Putin that was so rife within the GOP. It’s left a lot of people in D.C. sort of scratching their heads about the swift political changes.
6. Clinton camp still grumbling about the FBI. As the FBI evidently got in line with the CIA on the issue of Russian meddling, it ripped the band aid off the election cuts suffered by the Clinton campaign. “The FBI is rife with leaks and misconduct,” tweeted Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon. “Comey has no grip on the place.” “Anyone who thinks the FBI are not the biggest leakers needs to get their head examined,” said Democratic strategist Jim Manley, as Democrats are still venting their frustration about the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
7. Trump steers clear of Russia on “Thank You” tour. While Donald Trump has used Twitter to push back against the idea that Russia interfered in the election – maybe to his advantage – the President-Elect has showed some message discipline and stayed away from the Russia meddling subject at his campaign-style events this week. Three different rallies so far this week, and not a word, not any allusion to it at all. Having covered Trump for over a year, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine him going off script to jab at the press, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, or the intelligence community – but instead, Trump has kept those Russian thoughts just on Twitter.
Trump will be in Mobile, Alabama for a rally on Saturday.
8. Where is the evidence? Critics of the Obama Administration and Hillary Clinton have repeatedly demanded public evidence about the Russian election efforts. As I wrote earlier this week, U.S. Intelligence does not hand out details on where they picked up their intel, so you’re not going to get much in the way of “evidence.” But there are private groups which have been tracking the efforts to hack Democratic Party aides and the Clinton campaign. This report on shadowy Russian-backed groups trying to hack the Clinton campaign came out in June, and is a very interesting read into what was going on – well before this was part of the campaign.