Donald Trump appears to be having trouble understanding that the concerns over possible Russian involvement in leaks of emails and other inside information are now his concerns — not a political issue. The president-elect needs to stand firm behind American intelligence agencies that briefed him Friday on classified findings regarding accusations that the Russians provided hacked Democratic campaign and other political emails to WikiLeaks, The hacking definitely did damage to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Trump’s response was noncommital. He said in a statement the briefing was “a constructive meeting and conversation with the leaders of the intelligence community.”
This is not fodder for a stump speech. This is not an issue Trump can take before a rally of his supporters to get raucous applause. This is an intelligence issue of grave importance. If the Russians involved themselves in trying to influence an American election, then sanctions beyond those already imposed by President Obama will be warranted. And Trump will have to confront Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, with stern and emphatic repercussions — not with off-the-cuff references to Putin’s strength as a leader.
If Trump continues to make not-so-veiled challenges to American intelligence agencies, he risks undermining his credibility as president before his term even begins. Even his ardent supporters will be given more than pause if he appears to be defending Russian interference in the most central element of this or any other democracy — an election.
This is a defining moment for Donald Trump, one that may set the course for the next four years. It is symbolism, but is is also an important time in terms of America’s relations with all allies.
It also is a test of the electoral process. The public’s inherent cynicism about politics only will grow worse if people think, “Who cares? The Russians are probably going to fix it, anyway.” Trump did damage himself in his campaign, reckoning that the system was “fixed” to deny him the presidency, going so far as to say in one debate the he wasn’t sure he’d abide by the outcome of the election. It was a disturbing moment.
That kind of thing puts even more pressure on Trump to stand strongly behind the findings of American intelligence agencies once the reports on Russian hacking are complete. He has to step up and show he intends to ensure the integrity of future elections no matter what. If that means coming down hard on the Russians, so be it. Now Trump must focus on protecting this country against those who wish to undermine this democracy and the safety of the American people.