Our view: The president who called Russian hacking of the election ‘fake news’ jumps at the chance to criticize Barack Obama for not doing enough in response to it
President Donald Trump’s inconsistency may be his only consistency, but even by the standard he’s set for abrupt reversals during his first five months in office, the president’s recent proclamations on election meddling raise hypocrisy to nose-bleed heights. Lest we bury the lead, here’s the real upshot: For the first time, Mr. Trump has acknowledged Russian interference in the last election and is none too happy about it.
What could have motivated the nation’s commander-in-chief to finally admit to what the nation’s leading intelligence experts have been saying for months (albeit in a backdoor manner)? Was it the need to hold the Russian hackers accountable? Was it the troubling potential for continued interference in U.S. and other western elections? Or might it have been a report in a publication Mr. Trump often criticizes as a purveyor of “fake news” that details the failure of President Barack Obama and his administration to take stronger action against that interference prior to Nov. 8?
Ding, ding, ding, if you guessed that last one — and the opportunity it gave President Trump to rail against the Obama administration — you would be correct.
Beginning last Friday on Twitter and clearly reacting to a report released that day by The Washington Post, Mr. Trump complained that the Obama administration “knew far in advance of November 8th about election meddling by Russia. Did nothing about it. WHY?”
He said something similar to Fox News in an interview aired Sunday. “To me — in other words, the question is, if he had the information, why didn’t he do something about it? He should have done something about it.”
President Trump reportedly received the same information after he was sworn into office, but what did he do about it? He has stayed silent on the subject (including when similar antics took place prior to the recent French election), or, when he has spoken out, he’s criticized efforts to investigate that interference and resisted talks about ratcheting up sanctions on Russia for its behavior. If anything, Mr. Trump has acted like a willing accomplice — whether intentionally or not — through his words and actions.
But let’s roll back the clock and imagine what the response might have been like if President Obama had announced before the election that the Russians had launched a cyber war to help Mr. Trump and that tough sanctions needed to be imposed immediately. Does anyone seriously believe Mr. Trump would have welcomed that assessment even if he had been given the same classified intelligence? Remember, the hacking wasn’t publicly acknowledged by U.S. intelligence officials until January when that material was declassified. The Trump campaign machine would have declared the president a partisan tool of Hillary Clinton. House Republicans might even have considered impeachment proceedings for Mr. Obama’s own “meddling” in the election.
In retrospect, President Obama’s failure to take stronger action against Russia was a bad call. “I feel like we sort of choked,” was how one anonymous former senior Obama aide famously described the situation to The Post, and there is no shortage of Democrats who feel the same way.
They include Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who has pointed out that just complaining privately to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Mr. Obama initially did, wasn’t enough. The Obama administration “needed to call out Russia earlier, and needed to act to deter and punish Russia earlier, and I think that was a very serious mistake,” he told CNN.
It’s likely that polls showing that former Secretary of State Clinton was going to win the election influenced Mr. Obama’s behavior. And he surely could not have known that then-FBI Director James Comey would drop his own public opinion-altering bombshell — reopening the investigation of Ms. Clinton’s emails in late October and then putting out a proverbial “never mind” to Congress just two days before the election. That was a major blunder (that should have gotten Mr. Comey fired, according to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whose recommendation of such action might have been persuasive if Mr. Trump had not already decided to fire Mr. Comey for “the Russia thing,” as the president later told NBC News).
Confused? You should be. Russian meddling in the election is “fake news” and a Democratic conspiracy or worse when it’s convenient for Mr. Trump but an embarrassing failure to crack down on the Russians when it’s a chance to criticize his predecessor. He can’t have it both ways. But then he just did.
Become a subscriber today to support editorial writing like this. Start getting full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.