Another Washington Post blockbuster story broke on June 23 providing insight on Russia and its activities in the U.S. from Obama administration insiders. This latest “bombshell” provides two obvious conclusions that any reasonable analysis would generate: first, there is absolutely nothing new in this report about what happened in the 2016 election beyond the fact that Russia meddled with events in the United States, as it frequently does on many fronts; and second, this expose should end the allegations and conspiracy theories about President Trump, his campaign, and the Russians.
As with any “leaked” or “anonymous” source coming from our intelligence community, one should be cautious on how it is viewed, especially since it came from Obama insiders. That’s what makes this story so amazing. It unintentionally clears the name of President Trump and his campaign while raising serious questions and concerns about Obama’s administration.
Let’s take a closer look. There are still no new facts about Russian activities in the report beyond the vague assertions – without substantive explanation or proof – that have already been made public by the intelligence community.
What it does raise are some serious questions about the Obama administration’s response to Russian activities. There are four points in particular that deserve attention:
· The Post made clear that the Obama administration was suspicious of Russian efforts for over a year and was fully aware of Russia’s intentions in early August of 2016 – in other words, they had plenty of time to act if action were necessary. They did nothing.
So, how concerned was the Obama administration about the politics of the matter rather than just doing the right thing?
· The Obama administration may have been concerned yet believed that Russian efforts “were unlikely to materially affect the outcome of the election.” So they did nothing.
· “Despite the dire warnings there were no meltdowns … on Nov. 8, no evidence of hacking related fraud, crashing of electronic ballots or manipulation of vote counts.” So they did nothing.
· Finally, as reported elsewhere, Senators Dianne Feinstein, Mark Warner and Lindsey Graham, Rep. Maxine Waters and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have all stated there was no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
Bottom line is that the Obama administration had time to act but didn’t; the election results were not impacted by the Russians; and there is still no evidence of collusion. Does any reasonable person truly believe something new will be discovered now?
So, where does the investigation go from here? The focus needs to return to its original intent. What did the Russians do beyond what we already know? The American people deserve transparency and to know the full extent of attempted Russian interference. It seems that there is much more to this story than what has been shared so far.
It is also time to evaluate actions taken by the Obama administration. This happened on their watch. One Obama insider has expressed dismay and believes the administration “choked” – even though, as we’ve seen, there was no “material affect” on “the outcome of the election” which went ahead without a “meltdown.” But what does that imply? What more could Obama’s administration have done? Did they brief the Clinton and Trump campaigns and the relevant political committees? Were there any warnings to strengthen their security measures and to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior?
From my experience as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, if a congressperson is identified as a potential target by a foreign intelligence service, that individual is notified. Informing the campaigns, committees, and individuals seems like it would have been common sense.
So, how concerned was the Obama administration about the politics of the matter rather than just doing the right thing? Is this why there was an increase in surveillance and the unmasking of Americans? Were those actions appropriate without informing those involved?
These are just some of the many questions that have emerged because of the latest Washington Post “bombshell.” It’s time for the whole investigative effort to refocus on Russian actions and how the Obama administration did or did not respond.
Pete Hoekstra is the Shillman senior fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism. He is the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and is author of "Architects of Disaster: The Destruction of Libya."