The big, overarching reason that President-elect Donald Trump doesn’t want to accept the conclusions of the intelligence community about Russia’s alleged hacking is pretty simple: It would call into question whether he would have won the 2016 election without it. Trump is a winner, and it would hurt his brand.
And he’s making that very clear right now — in a deceptive way.
In a statement Friday afternoon and a tweet Saturday morning, Trump claimed that a. Russia had no actual influence on the election results and that b. the intelligence report says so. The first claim is unproveable; the second is just bogus.
“While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines,” Trump said in his Friday statement after receiving an intelligence briefing.
And here’s the tweet:
Trump is using a clever bit of misdirection to argue that the report says something it doesn’t. The report does say voting machines weren’t hacked; it does not say there’s “no evidence that hacking affected the election results.” In fact, on the latter count, it says pretty clearly that it isn’t making any such determination.
Here’s what the report does say about voting machines, etc.:
Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local electoral boards. DHS assesses that the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying.
This does say pretty clearly that the intelligence community’s conclusion is that Russia did not physically hack the vote-counting process. But while a poll showed many Democrats may believe this to be the case, no high-ranking Democrats are actually making this argument. It’s a red herring.
What the report clearly does not say is whether the influence of the hacking might have changed people’s minds before Election Day, which is the goal of a propaganda campaign, after all. That’s how Russia is really alleged to have swayed the outcome.
In fact, the report says clearly that it isn’t weighing in on that question. Here’s the operable part:
We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion.
So while Trump says the intelligence report “stated very strongly there was absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results,” the intelligence report itself says it “did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.” No assessment does not mean no evidence. It means they’re not attempting to answer that question.
Trump is trying to conflate the hacking of voting machines with “election results,” but they aren’t the same thing, and the hacking of voting machines isn’t really the issue here.
Whether Russia’s hacking and the information disseminated from it actually changed the results of the election is a very hard question to answer for anyone. It involves getting into the minds of people two months ago, before Election Day, and figuring out whether specific information changed their minds in ways even the people themselves might not have been aware of.
The intelligence community shouldn’t be expected to make such conclusions, and it clearly stated that it hasn’t. Which, it turns out, is pretty inconvenient for Trump.