Since I didn’t have anything better to do (and since it was Kirk Douglas’s 100th birthday, for-yeesh-sake), I killed a couple of hours last Friday night watching Seven Days in May, the entertaining 1962 political thriller that stars Douglas as an upright Marine colonel foiling a coup led by his charismatic Pentagon boss, Burt Lancaster. Little did I know that the next morning, I’d wake to what felt—at least briefly—like Nine Days in December.
With Donald Trump’s certification by the Electoral College as our 45th POTUS looming, getting on with one’s Christmas shopping couldn’t hold a candle to the Washington Post’s scoop that Russia hadn’t just done its best to fubar the 2016 presidential election—which we sort of knew already—but that it did so with the specific intention of getting Trump into the White House, by hook or by crook. So concluded the CIA, according to the Post’s unnamed sources, who cited a secret intelligence assessment, the details of which haven’t gone public yet and which may never go public.
Concurrently, The New York Times reported Trump’s likely pick for Secretary of State to be Exxon chief Rex Tillerson, who’s so chummy with Vladimir Putin he was once awarded Russia’s “Order of Friendship.” Unless he was on his high-school track team or something, Tillerson is the recipient of zero American medals for anything whatsoever. But what the hell—you can’t have everything. Offsetting that, Tillerson’s second in command at the State Department will apparently be rabid Russia-phobe John Bolton, which may just be the latest example of Trump’s weird ability to turn utter ideological incoherence to his advantage.
Trump also has a way of being most astounding when he’s at his most predictable. In this case, that means scornfully rejecting the CIA’s conclusion about Russian involvement as Democratic partisanship, an interesting aspersion to cast on an agency he’ll soon have to depend on for instruction as to how the world works in emergencies, Russia included. Even so, nothing suggests he had actually read or familiarized himself with the CIA assessment before he dismissed it, despite having access to its contents, unlike the rest of us. That’s because he claims he doesn’t need daily intelligence briefings because he’s already soooo smart. More likely, it’s because he has the attention span of a firefly, but so what? Staying up to speed on the tedious stuff is the kind of scut-work Mike Pence was hired to take care of.
If you know your Cold War history, there’s a certain amount of comedy in liberals indignantly wondering how anyone could possibly question the CIA’s trustworthiness and objectivity. At the same time, it’s probably true that those operatives in Langley are less disposed toward Trump than the more conservative FBI, intensifying a clash of sensibilities (along with fights over turf) that dates back decades. But it’s a big jump to accuse the CIA of making up the idea of Putin aiding and abetting Trump, especially because everything having to do with the 2016 election shows signs that Russian interference targeted Hillary Clinton while letting her opponent off scot-free.
That includes how Russia reportedly hacked both parties’ national committees, but only released the DNC’s email cache (via Wikileaks). If Rience Priebus is frantically denying that the RNC was hacked at all—and how would he know, either way?—that could be because what he and his colleagues were saying in private about Trump back in February probably wasn’t any friendlier than the DNC’s in-house reaction to the risk of Bernie Sanders upsetting Hillary’s apple cart. But as old Watergate buffs like to put it, all that is “inoperative” now.
Should we be alarmed about any of this? Yeah. Concluding that Putin tried to swing the election Trump’s way may be legitimate, but proving his efforts did get Trump elected is obviously impossible, as writer Michael Tomasky (no right-winger) points out.
So far, the only good that’s come out of the whole kerfuffle is how a few key U.S. Senators—John McCain and Lindsey Graham on the GOP side, Chuck Schumer and Jack Reed for the Democrats—are dragging the obsolete word “bipartisan” out of mothballs and calling for an investigation of Russia’s involvement. (Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell supports a probe, though he’s probably not happy about it. He reportedly squelched a pre-election release of the CIA’s findings by threatening to denounce any such nonsense as a “partisan smear”—the same line Trump is now using.)
Of course, the Electoral College will have voted long before then. Even if we end up with irrefutable confirmation that he was Putin’s candidate from the start, President Trump will be in a position to say, “Well, what are you going to do about it now?” And it’s anyone’s guess what the answer will be.