On late Friday, The Washington Post broke the explosive story that the Central Intelligence Agency concluded that Russians intervened in the U.S. election to help Donald Trump win. This morning, President-elect Donald Trump was up tweeting indignantly—about the Celebrity Apprentice.
Trump hasn’t held a press conference in months and instead uses Twitter to issue statements and go after critics. Media analysts have long noted that Trump will go off on unrelated tweet storms after a major, and potentially damaging, news story breaks about him. For example, after Donald Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle a Trump University fraud lawsuit, Trump tweeted attacks on the cast of the Broadway show, Hamilton. Distracting people from Trump’s fraud settlement was exactly the point, argued Jack Shafer in a Politico article entitled “Stop being Trump’s Twitter fool.”
This morning would seem to be another case in point. Yes, it was big news when Variety disclosed Thursday that Trump would continue to serve as executive producer of NBC’s reality-TV show and collect probably hundreds of thousands of dollars. But that was completely eclipsed by the bombshell report that Russia had an espionage operation to get Donald Trump elected president. Trump has been famously friendly to Russia’s strongman leader Vladimir Putin, calling him a better leader than President Obama, and Russia apparently concluded that Trump would more likely to relax economic sanctions than would Hillary Clinton.
The report of Russia’s meddling also included the revelation that Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell played a key role in keeping the explosive information under wraps during the election. According to The Post, which cited unnamed sources, McConnell voiced doubts about U.S. intelligence and threatened to publicly accuse the Obama administration of partisan politics if the White House challenged the Russians publicly.
After the election, Trump chose McConnell’s wife Elaine Chao to be secretary of transportation. Chao served as secretary of labor in George W. Bush administration. Her appointment requires approval by Congress; McConnell has rejected calls to recuse himself from the confirmation process.
Even more explosive, the New York Times reported that intelligence agencies have “high confidence” that Russians hacked the Republican National Committee but “conspicuously released no documents” related to Republicans. Which raises the disturbing question: Is Russia holding onto these materials to use as leverage, perhaps over the Trump administration?
Julian Assange of Wikileaks, which published the hacked Clinton emails, has denied that it received the materials from the Russian government. Russia also has denied the allegations.
The latest news, however, immediately set off a firestorm. Evan McMullin, a former CIA agent who was a Republican presidential candidate, tweeted:
Donald Trump’s team issued a brief, stunning statement Friday—attacking the CIA’s credibility. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” the transition team said in an unsigned statement. “The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.'” (Note: Trump’s electoral victory was no landslide; he actually won by one of the slimmest margins in U.S. history.)
And here’s what Trump said on Twitter:
(I won’t be Trump’s Twitter fool by explaining The Apprentice contretemps. You can read about it here and here. )
Trump has said he’ll have a press conference on December 15th. It would be his first since July 27th. At the last conference, he told reporters that he hoped Russian intelligence agencies had hacked Hillary Clinton’s emails and would publish whatever they found. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Mr. Trump said. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”