Before they vote on December 19, a handful of members of the Electoral College are requesting an intelligence briefing on the CIA’s conclusion that Russia influenced the presidential election in favor of Donald Trump.
In their letter, sent to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the electors stress that deliberating and debating before casting their votes for president is their duty—and an active and crucial one, rather than just a formality. Though the Electoral College has never installed a president other than the candidate chosen by awarding all of the electors’ votes in each state to the candidate who won that state’s popular vote, a movement within the electors has been bubbling since Election Day, saying that this election is the time to break that tradition. The small-but-growing group, who call themselves the Hamilton Electors, say that the Electoral College is the “break in case of emergency” failsafe, designed specifically for an instance like this one—when the people of the United States select a candidate who is unfit for the presidency.
The electors’ letter quotes Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers, saying that a central role of the Electoral College is “to prevent a ‘desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.’” They also call Trump’s statement on July 27—“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing”—a “direct plea to the Russian government to interfere further in the election.”
Despite several warnings from Hillary Clinton’s camp, including from Clinton herself during the third presidential debate, the threat of Russian interference in the election didn’t get much coverage during the campaign.
In a bullet-pointed article titled “Russia and the U.S. Election: What We Know and Don’t Know,” the New York Times cuts through speculation and clarifies the use of the word “hack” in describing the Russian interference. The word is used as shorthand, the article explains, and doesn’t refer to literal interference with the vote counts as many believe, but to the retrieval and dissemination of emails from the Democratic National Convention’s servers. The leak of emails to Wikileaks in the crucial final weeks of the presidential campaign led to a sharp increase in negative coverage of Hillary Clinton in the media, and a decline in the public’s perception of her.
“Initially, many analysts believed that Russia’s goal was to sow confusion and undermine Americans’ faith in their government—a common Russian tactic—rather than to steer the election’s outcome,” the article explains. “However, after the election, the Central Intelligence Agency concluded that Russia had released the emails with the primary goal of bolstering Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign.”
The letter to Clapper was originally signed by 10 electors. Since it was posted online by Christine Pelosi, a California elector and daughter of Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, 30 more electors have added their names. On Monday, Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta gave a statement in support of a briefing for the electors. This is the first time the Clinton campaign has given credence to any of the frequent calls to delegitimize Trump’s election.
A petition on Moveon.org with more than 150,000 signatures is supporting the electors’ request, calling for the declassification of all information pertaining to Russian interference with the election and an intelligence briefing for all electors.