As noted Russia expert Sarah Palin might ask of Vladimir Putin: “How’s all that hackin’ workin’ for ya?”
More than a week after chieftains of the American intelligence community much maligned by Donald Trump presented the president-elect with a “high-confidence” report that the little red menace of Moscow was behind a multi-pronged effort to disrupt the U.S. elections, deny Hillary Clinton the presidency, and tilt the outcome to the man in the high tower, the answer is probably “Not that great.”
Certainly, Russia’s wily president got one outcome he was after: Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th president in less than a week. However, there is no evidence yet that the Kremlin’s gremlins had any measurable effect on the outcome of the voting, as incoming Press Secretary Sean Spicer rightly told Fox News on Jan 2.
But after a week of the Senate questioning Trump Cabinet nominees, the unintended consequences of hacking into the Democratic National Committee, releasing embarrassing emails via WikiLeaks, promoting fake news and using the state-sponsored TV network Russia Today (RT) to disseminate pro-Trump and anti-Clinton content are becoming clearer.
(It should be noted that Julian Assange, the fugitive co-founder of WkiLeaks who can lately count Fox News’s Sean Hannity and failed vice-presidential candidate Palin as groupies, claims the source of the emails was “not the Russian government and… not a state party.” And certainly, a man on the run from charges of rape and molestation would never shade the truth.)
In any case, Putin has invited retribution, which President Obama was happy to provide, putting a gaggle of spies on the first Aeroflot flight to Moscow and imposing sanctions on four Russian intelligence officials.
But more important, Putin has underlined the fact that Russia is an enemy of the American people, infuriated many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and led the likely new leaders of the Defense Dept. and CIA to pledge that they will always have the Kremlin in their crosshairs.
Former Marine General James Mattis, who will almost certainly be confirmed as Defense Secretary, told senators that Putin is trying to undermine the NATO alliance. “There’s a decreasing number of areas where we can engage cooperatively and increasing numbers of areas where we’re going to have to confront Russia,” he said.
Mike Pompeo, the Harvard-educated lawyer and Tea Party congressman from Kansas who is a shoo-in for director of the CIA, said at his hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia is among the top threats to the U.S.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, who has called Putin a thug, said at the Mattis hearing that he had watched three presidents commit themselves to a new relationship with the Russian leader and each effort was “an abysmal failure.” He asked the former general: “Should we ignore the lessons of history in our relationship with Vladimir Putin?”
Mattis said that since Yalta, the instances of constructive engagement with Russia have been few, adding: “I think the most important thing is that we recognize the reality of what we deal with with Mr. Putin.”
That reality could collide with the reality-TV president’s view of Putin and Russia, which during the campaign and right up until his briefing by the intelligence chiefs, has been a fawning and cloying spectacle.
Still, Congress seems to have grown impatient with the Donald and Vladi bromance.
Rex Tillerson, who played footsie with Putin as CEO of ExxonMobil, took heat during his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of State because he was not sufficiently critical of the Russian leader, declining to label him a “war criminal,” as Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida demanded. That is unlikely to derail his confirmation, but Tillerson’s future dealings with Moscow will always be suspect.
Former CIA officer Will Hurd, a Republican representative from Texas, told The New York Times that Russian intelligence will look at efforts to disrupt the American election as its “most successful covert action operation because it created a wedge, whether real or perceived, between the U.S. president, intelligence community and the American public.”
That may be true. But once the spooks in Moscow are finished partying, they and their Kremlin control agent could be in for a long, ugly hangover.