American intelligence agencies have told the White House they now have “high confidence” that the Russian government was behind the theft of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee, according to federal officials who have been briefed on the evidence.
But intelligence officials have cautioned that they are uncertain whether the electronic break-in at the committee’s computer systems was intended as fairly routine cyberespionage — of the kind the United States also conducts around the world — or as part of an effort to manipulate the 2016 presidential election.
Oh, well, two big caveats, then. That second paragraph is one, but the caveat I meant was the fact that these are the same intelligence agencies that claimed that the case for the existence of an active Iraqi WMD program was a “slam dunk” back in 2002 or thereabouts. When they say “high confidence,” it’s probably time to get a second opinion. In this case, though, the intel agencies are the second opinion–investigations by private security firms have already come to this same conclusion, and while I wouldn’t consider those 100% conclusive either, they strike me as more conclusive than the government’s “high confidence.”
Whether or not there’s real meat to this story, it’s clear that Donald Trump, the leak’s (witting or not) beneficiary, either doesn’t care or can’t stop himself from inflaming things:
Trump, meanwhile, speaking at a press conference in Florida, raised the stakes again, as he appeared to incite Russia to hack into and release Hillary Clinton’s emails from the personal server she used whilst she was secretary of state.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing,” he said.
“I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if that happens. That will be next.”
The Republican nominee added: “They probably have her 33,000 e-mails that she lost and deleted … I hope they do … because you’d see some beauties there.”
He’s now calling on Russia to hack an American target and saying that he hopes they’ve already done it. This is not exactly the route I’d take if I wanted people to stop trying to tie me to Vladimir Putin–which means, again, that either Trump doesn’t care about the implication or he’s just talking without thinking. I guess either is possible.
In addition to maybe not calling on Russian hackers to commit cybercrimes against Americans, Trump could also tamp down this “Putin’s Man” chatter by releasing his tax returns and showing that he’s not financially connected to Russian oligarchs. But he’s not going to do that:
Asked by CBS News whether Trump would release his tax returns to put voters’ minds at ease, his campaign manager stuck to the candidate’s they’re-just-going-to-have-to-trust-me script. “Mr. Trump has said that his taxes are under audit and he will not be releasing them,” Paul Manafort responded. “It has nothing to do with Russia, it has nothing to do with any country other than the United States and his normal tax auditing process.” Pressed again as to whether Trump has any “financial relationships with any Russian oligarchs,” Manafort offered more than a dozen words in place of a simple one-word no. “That’s what he said, that’s what I said,” the longtime GOP operative answered. “That’s obviously what our position is.”
First things first: Don’t be fooled by the audit excuse. There’s nothing stopping a candidate—or anyone else, for that matter—from releasing his returns while he is being audited, as Richard Nixon did back in the 1970s. (Nixon’s iconic “I’m not a crook” remark referred not to Watergate but rather to rumors of tax avoidance—which turned out to be true.) Beyond the questions about his Russian connections, Trump’s ongoing refusal to release his returns is a big deal in itself. The release of a candidate’s taxes, which is a political tradition that dates back roughly half a century, provides voters with valuable information about their potential presidents, including how they made their money, how much they donate to charity, and whether they have any potential conflicts of interest—i.e., answers to some of the most pressing questions Trump either won’t answer, won’t back up with any actual evidence, or has lied about. (The financial disclosures candidates file with the Federal Election Commission, meanwhile, can be so vague that they border on worthless, particularly for the ultra-rich like Trump.)
In general, given how much grief “Mitt” Romney got for delaying the release of his returns in 2012 (I can’t believe I’m sort of sticking up for “Mitt” right now), you’d think Trump’s outright refusal to release his would be causing him some sort of problem. But because of this Russian story, it’s probably more important that we see Trump’s tax returns than the usual candidate’s tax returns.