In October, the US Intelligence Community, which includes 16 American intelligence agencies, announced that they were “confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.” Controversy broke out last week over the disputed conclusion that the Russians were attempting to push Donald Trump to victory, as opposed to attempting to undermine the electoral system generally – but there’s been little controversy about whether Russia was behind the WikiLeaks hacks.
Except on the right.
There, many commentators have insisted that there’s no evidence whatsoever that Vladimir Putin and the Russian government were behind the hacks. Sean Hannity, who used to believe that Julian Assange should go to jail, hosted Assange (whom, Hannity assured his audience, had “done us a favor” by hacking the Democratic National Committee) and kvelled as Assange said that the Russians had nothing to do with the hacks. Trump mouthpiece Bill Mitchell dutifully tweeted Putin’s challenge to the United States, and that tweet received nearly two thousand likes and well over a thousand retweets from sympathetic Trump fans.
Here’s the actual story, from CNN:
The United States must either stop accusing Russia of meddling in its elections or prove it, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was "indecent" of the United States to "groundlessly" accuse Russia of intervention in the US election campaign, Russian state news agency Tass reported. "They should either stop talking about that or produce some proof at last. Otherwise it all begins to look unseemly," Peskov reportedly said about the latest accusations that Russia was responsible for hacker attacks.
The celebratory glee from Trump advocates – see, Putin’s denying it, so it must all be a Democratic plot in coordination with the CIA! – is odd, considering that Putin has a long record of lying blatantly about his nefarious activities. In 2012, Russia denied that a spy ring allegedly working for Russia was working for Russia. In May 2015, for example, as Russian troops motored into Ukraine, the government denied that its troops were in Ukraine at all – even as the Russian government issued an order covering up all deaths of Russian troops in the country. In October 2015, the Russian government denied that it or pro-Russian separatists had anything to do with the shooting down of MH17 – and Trump naturally bought Putin’s explanation, stating, “Putin and Russia say they didn’t do it, the other side said they did, no one really knows who did it, probably Putin knows who did it, possibly it was Russia but they are totally denying it.” Last month, Russia denied reports of an air offensive in Aleppo – even though human rights groups reported the airstrikes.
Russia, in other words, lies all the time. It’s a dictatorship run by a former KGB operative.
Yet Republicans seem to parrot Putin’s line as the truth, so long as that truth benefits Donald Trump. Kellyanne Conway’s ridiculous line that questions about Russian hacking should end if President Obama loved “the country enough” are a shoddy way of shutting down a discussion about the hacking itself.
That’s pretty disgusting. But it makes sense from a utilitarian perspective, if not a moral one – many Trump supporters are happy to praise one of the planet’s worst human beings so long as he helps their agenda, and top members of the Trump administration think of Russia as part of the anti-jihadist team, and have some admiration for Putin’s nationalist ambitions (see Bannon, Steve).
It’s sad to watch the party of Reagan mimic the Putin party line. But partisanship now trumps decency and truth, obviously.