The American intelligence community's consensus is that Russia launched significant cyber attacks on the Democratic party and the Clinton campaign, that these attacks were authorized by Putin, and they were intended to aid Trump's presidential chances, by damaging Clinton's.
Oddly, a glaring holdout about Russia's culpability is President-elect Trump. Without any evidence or basis whatsoever, Trump angrily dismissed claims of Russian interference as ridiculous, and launched "a blistering attack" on the American intelligence community for raising these issues.
Trump's supporters claim he's resisting an investigation because he considers it a plot to undermine his legitimacy. This stance, however, seems, at best, misguided and, at worst, not believable. If Trump had announced that - although convinced they hadn't influenced the election, he was outraged by these attacks on his fellow citizens and our election process, and stood with President Obama in getting to the bottom of this - he'd likely be getting applause from everyone.
Instead, Trump's lack of enthusiasm for investigating these attacks (and particularly his hostility to the idea of Russian involvement) only raises more questions, and has created conflict even within the GOP. Republican Senators Graham and McCain adamantly disagree with Trump about Russia's role. Trump is a "smart person", so why doesn't he defuse this situation, as his presidency begins, by aggressively supporting an inquiry into these attacks? As Professor Michael McFaul, our former Ambassador to Russia, has asked:
"Why is Trump so militantly against an investigation into Putin's meddling in our elections? What does he have to hide? This love fest is odd."
Here are some hypothetical speculations about what Trump might want to hide.
Appalling as these cyber attacks were, the consensus is that they didn't influence the election's outcome. But perhaps the consensus is wrong - and Trump knows it's wrong. Trump won by only a very small margin. Hillary Clinton received almost 3 million more votes, and Trump barely won in the electoral college. A swing of about 100,000 votes in three states would have cost him the election.
Perhaps Trump has polling data (or other information) indicating that the cyber attacks on his opponent were key to his victory, or that the attacks were more extensive than we are currently aware. He might fear an investigation would reveal that (even in the opinion of his own team) he won only because of Russian interference.
Or perhaps Trump legitimately believes the Russians weren't behind the hacks because he believes, or suspects, someone close to him was the hacker. Trump is a billionaire, with very rich children and with many billionaire friends. Perhaps Trump knows, or suspects, the guilty party is someone close to him that he wishes to protect.
Alternatively, perhaps Trump thinks the Russians are guilty of the attacks, but suspects that people close to him coordinated with the Russians (a number of people close to Trump are rumored to have connections with, or to have been paid by, Russia). If someone close to Trump coordinated with the Russians on these cyber attacks, public knowledge of such coordination would be a major embarrassment for his administration, and could potentially result in criminal charges for those involved.
As another hypothetical possibility, Trump could be concerned that an investigation might reveal embarrassing information about his financial connections with Russia. Investigations have a habit of taking on a life of their own. An inquiry into the cyber attacks might eventually lead to an investigation of the Trump Organization's relationship to Russia. Many people have speculated about the extent of Trump's financial ties to Russia. President-elect Trump has publicly said: "I have no businesses [with Russia], I have no loans from Russia." Donald Trump, Jr., however, has said:
"Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets ... we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."
Or, perhaps Trump is trying to prevent embarrassing non-financial information from becoming public. Thomas Graham, managing director at Kissinger Associates, said: "I think they [the Russians] most certainly have something on Trump," and it has been claimed that potentially Trump was compromised in some way during a trip to Russia. Perhaps Trump is concerned that, in a full investigation, this embarrassing material (if any exists) would become public.
The list above is by no means exhaustive and maybe there's some innocuous explanation for Trump's aversion to investigating these attacks, or this is some type of misunderstanding. But, the American people are entitled to answers about why and how our presidential election was attacked, and our fellow citizens' privacy was violated. Until these questions are answered - this matter will be a festering cancer growing on Trump's presidency, resulting in yet more speculation and distrust of Trump's motives and policies.
It's time for an independent counsel, commission, or special congressional committee to take charge of this investigation, with a non-partisan professional prosecutor in the lead. If Trump fails to support a rigorous independent investigation (particularly one focused on the Russian aspects), it will be time to urgently ask, as Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post recently said, "whose side Trump is on?"
Steven Strauss is a visiting professor at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.