WASHINGTON – The CIA’s finding that Vladimir Putin’s Russia actively intervened in our election to help Donald Trump explains why many of us are not simply disappointed or unhappy that Trump won. We are genuinely alarmed. And Trump’s cavalier response to these fears only deepens them.
When The Washington Post revealed the CIA’s conclusions about Russia, Trump’s response was to insult the CIA, tell a lie about the size of his victory and act as if an election still very fresh in our minds were some sort of historical event dating back to the Pilgrims.
The statement put out by Trump’s transition team, so obtuse and so arrogant, needs to be cited in full: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’”
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That Trump would happily trash our own CIA to get Putin off the hook is disturbing enough – and, by the way, there were dissenters in the CIA on Iraq. That he would ignore the risks our intelligence agents take on so many fronts to protect us is outrageous.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, was genuinely disturbed over how a pampered and privileged man so readily threw our intelligence officers under the bus to make a political point. “Perhaps, once he has taken office,” Schiff said, “Mr. Trump will go to the CIA and look at the rows of memorial stars in the lobby – each representing a fallen officer – and reflect on his disparagement of the intelligence community’s work.”
Oh, yes, and about his having won “one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history”? In the past 10 elections, Trump’s electoral college take ranks eighth.
The CIA finding is all the more worrisome because of how Trump has willingly served as a Putin apologist. On NBC in September, for example, Trump sounded very impressed with Putin’s power when he declared: “The man has very strong control over a country.” Well, yes, an autocrat whose opponents often turn up dead does exercise “very strong control.” Trump went on to declare that Putin had been a leader “far more than our president has been a leader.” I don’t know about Trump, but I think most Americans would rather live under Barack Obama.
A further cause for concern: Trump and his top lieutenant Stephen K. Bannon have openly allied themselves with the far-right forces in Europe that Putin has championed. In a timely article for the Atlantic, “Russia and the Threat to Liberal Democracy,” Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, speaks of a “romance between far-right, anti-immigrant European parties” and Putin. A Trump romance with Putin fits neatly into this narrative – which is precisely why Trump should want to dispel our fears rather than aggravate them. Diamond declared: “We stand now at the most dangerous moment for liberal democracy since the end of World War II.” Why are we afraid? Because Trump gives us reason to worry he will not be on the right side of this fight.
Nor was it reassuring that a day after the story about the CIA’s finding broke, Trump’s inner circle leaked that his likely choice as secretary of state was Rex Tillerson, the ExxonMobil chairman and chief executive who had negotiated oil deals with Putin. For Tillerson’s efforts, Putin awarded him Russia’s Order of Friendship. “Friends and associates said few U.S. citizens are closer to Mr. Putin than Mr. Tillerson,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
Is it paranoid to want to know whether Tillerson’s ties to Putin are why he is at the top of Trump’s list to be our top diplomat? Is it out of line to wonder, given Trump’s lack of transparency about his finances, what role Russia has played in his business empire? After all, his son Donald Trump Jr. said in 2008 that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets” and added: “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” Now more than ever, we need to know exactly what he was talking about.
Trump’s circle will deride Democrats who ask such questions, but it will not be so easy for them to dismiss Republicans such as Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Those of us profoundly worried about a Trump presidency would be a little less anxious if more Republicans joined them in responding to this challenge not as partisans but as patriots.
E.J. Dionne’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @EJDionne.