Hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computers and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email during the 2016 presidential campaign “had nothing to do with us,” President Donald Trump told John Dickerson on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday.
“Had nothing to do with this, and everyone knows it,” the president added.
But that’s not what intelligence information has shown. The U.S. intelligence community has argued, both publicly and via anonymous leaks in the press, that Russia interfered in the election in an effort to help Trump win. But Trump refuses to accept that, too. “I’ll go along with Russia,” Trump told Dickerson immediately before speculating that the hacking also “could’ve been China, could’ve been a lot of different groups.”
Democrats have gone further than the intelligence community, occasionally suggesting that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian attempts to boost Trump’s chances. Although reporting that some Trump associates had contacts with Russian intelligence officials is widespread, there’s no evidence that the Trump campaign secretly coordinated hacking or the release of hacked materials with the Russian government or its surrogates.
Trump isn’t always easy to understand, but that seems to be what he was trying to say Sunday: We didn’t coordinate with the Russians, and I’m not even sure the Russians were involved in the hacking.
Here’s the thing: Democrats don’t need to prove some secret collusion between Russia and the the Trump campaign to show that Russia wanted Trump to win, and Trump wanted Russia’s help.
Most public evidence suggests the election hacking did have to do with Trump. Russian support for Trump’s campaign was abundantly clear from the country’s public actions ― especially the work of state-backed media outlets and internet trolls. And Trump himself publicly called for Russia to hack his opponent’s emails. This is a lesson that super PACs, which sometimes release their plans publicly so as to avoid laws forbidding coordination with political candidates, learned a long time ago: You don’t have to coordinate in secret if you can coordinate publicly.
None of this is to say whether Trump associates’ ties to Russia were or weren’t above-board ― we just don’t know yet. No one has been charged with a crime ― not even Michael Flynn, Trump’s ex-national security adviser who omitted payments from three “Russia-linked entities” on his security clearance application, according to a Fox News report earlier this month. And Russian support for Trump likely had a lot to do with Russian opposition to Clinton ― and with policy positions Trump took before being elected but has since repudiated, such as skepticism for the NATO military alliance and skepticism for U.S. military strikes on the government of Syrian dictator (and Russian ally) Bashar Assad.
The fact that the Russian government seemed to want Trump to win, and that it probably helped him do so, doesn’t disqualify him from the presidency or make him guilty of a crime. But it does suggest that he wasn’t and isn’t as popular at home as he likes to believe. That seems to be the suggestion that Trump can’t stand: That he didn’t win all by himself.
See a video of part of the Russia section of the interview below:
And here’s a transcript of the relevant section of the interview:
JOHN DICKERSON: You don’t think it’s phony that they, the Russians, tried to meddle in the election? You believe that?
DONALD TRUMP: That, I don’t know. I don’t know.
DICKERSON: That you don’t know or you do know?
TRUMP: Well, I have a problem. You have Podesta, who, by the way, I understand has a company with his brother in Russia. Hillary’s husband makes speeches in Russia. Hillary did a uranium deal with Russia. Nobody ever talks about that. But I don’t know―
DICKERSON: You don’t―
TRUMP: ―because the F.B.I. was not allowed by Podesta to go in and check all of the records on their servers and everything else that you would normally have to check. That’s number one.
Number two, knowing something about hacking, if you don’t catch a hacker, okay, in the act, it’s very hard to say who did the hacking. With that being said, I’ll go along with Russia. Could’ve been China, could’ve been a lot of different groups.
DICKERSON: So President Donald Trump is ambivalent―
TRUMP: But it could’ve―
DICKERSON: ―about or not ambivalent, you’re not just not sure
TRUMP: No. We have to find out what happened. I’d love to find out what happened.
DICKERSON: But you don’t think it’s the Russians―
TRUMP: I can tell you one thing. Had nothing to do with us. Had nothing to do with this, and everyone knows it.