After persistent refusals, Donald Trump has publicly conceded Russian responsibility for hacking attacks against Hillary Clinton's campaign. But why now?
On Wednesday, President-elect Donald Trump held a press conference - his first since being elected - covering a range of topics. He was asked many questions about connections to Vladimir Putin and Russian hacking of the DNC, alleged by the US media and intelligence agencies.
When Trump was asked who he thought was behind the hack, his answer was a dramatic reversal from his previous position and that of his surrogates that it was impossible to determine the guilty party:
As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people. And I — I can say that you know when — when we lost 22 million names and everything else that was hacked recently, they didn’t make a big deal out of that. That was something that was extraordinary. That was probably China.
This shocking concession by Mr. Trump follows his classified briefing on "Russian hacking" with US intelligence agencies the previous Friday.
It appeared a grudging acceptance by Trump, as he specifically blamed Russia but quickly glazed over it and then shifted blame onto China and "other countries" as well.
Asked by a reporter what message he had for Vladimir Putin related to the hacking, Trump had this to say:
He shouldn’t be doing it. He won’t be doing it. Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I’m leading than when other people have led it. You will see that. Russia will respect our country more. He shouldn’t have done it. I don’t believe that he will be doing it more now.
We have to work something out, but it’s not just Russia. Take a look at what’s happened. You don’t report it the same way; 22 million accounts were hacked in this country by China.
Already on Monday, chief-of-staff Reince Priebus had signaled the change in position, telling Chris Wallace that Trump "accepts the findings." At the time, it appeared to be a gaffe by Priebus. It is now clear that was not that case.
What are the possible explanations for this drastic change in position by Trump? After discussing the issue with my colleagues, we have arrived at three possible scenarios:
1) Trump conceded Russia as the guilty party in order to in effect, kill the story. He doesn't want this thing still dominating front page news going into inauguration day. Media frenzies get whipped up over scandals which are denied. If the target of the press does a mea culpa (though Trump is not the responsible party, he is the target), there is much less to talk about. I personally favor this explanation.
2) Trump was shown classified intelligence during his briefing the previous Friday which has not been made available in the published reports - a human source inside the Russian government for example - which left no significant doubt that Russia was responsible. The intel chiefs may have told Trump they would release this final indisputable proof if he did not concede Russian guilt. If Trump were publicly humiliated on this issue, it would destroy his ability to conduct foreign policy.
3) Trump could be throwing the CIA and other intel agencies a bone, trying to bury the hatchet so to speak. He may have presented them a deal - I'll publicly say you're right on this, allowing you to save face, but going forward I want you 100% on my side.
Another significant announcement made at the press conference was that Trump will be ordering a report on building the nation's hacking defenses, due in 90 days:
Within 90 days, we will be coming up with a major report on hacking defense, how do we stop this new phenomena — fairly new phenomena because the United States is hacked by everybody. That includes Russia and China and everybody — everybody.
Again, Trump's remarks were notable for seeking to not focus guilt exclusively on Russia. The president-elect obviously does not want this issue interfering with his new policy toward Russia.
At the same time, as far as the report goes, 90 days is a long time politically. In effect, by ordering up a report due only in 90 days, Trump can be seen to have dealt with the problem - or at least removed it to the back-burner for 90 days - which will allow him to make progress on his agenda in the meantime.
The publicly released intel reports purporting to prove Russia had "hacked the election" were laughed down by impartial experts and indeed, anyone with a modicum of computer knowledge. Nevertheless, I believe Trump's decision to concede was politically wise.
Since Trump's election he has faced a massive backlash from a bitter media establishment and the neocon and globalist institutions gravely worried about losing their influence if the new president's policies on trade, foreign relations and anti-corruption measures on lobbying and closing the "revolving door" between government and industry are carried out.
Though there is little chance the anti-Trump elites are about to roll over and halt their struggle against him, Trump at least managed to neutralize one of their main propaganda tools of the last weeks which they were using to discredit him and sabotage his authority to lead.
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