President-elect Donald Trump clearly doesn't get, or at least chooses to ignore, the significance of the election-related hacking that U.S. intelligence agencies have traced to Russia. And no matter what one might think of the revelations contained in emails that somehow wound up in the possession of groups like WikiLeaks — or whether those leaks even made any difference in the election results — the notion that a foreign government, any government, may have covertly meddled in a U.S. election ought to scare everyone.
Yet Mr. Trump continues his campaign of denials, sending only good and happy thoughts at Russian President Vladimir Putin, former KGB foreign intelligence officer, invader of Crimea, oppressor of dissidents, slaughterer of innocent Syrian civilians. On Friday, Mr. Trump took to Twitter to praise one of the more embarrassing revelations revealed by the cyberattack — that Donna Brazile may have leaked to the Clinton campaign questions at a town hall debate hosted by CNN where she worked as a commentator.
That sure was embarrassing, particularly for Ms. Brazile and CNN. We agree wholeheartedly — if she was doing that, she had no business working as a paid commentator for the news network.
But what about the motivations of the leaker? Those matter, too. In real-world journalism, it's considered critical to evaluate where information comes from — whether, for example, it's leaked by someone with an ax to grind or by the White House for political purposes. That's important for helping to determine the information's veracity and whether it reflects the whole story. Journalists check these things out and give those implicated a chance to respond in advance of publication.
There's no shortage of embarrassing information in the world, but when a foreign government employs its intelligence apparatus to collect it and then selectively dispense it in order to achieve a certain result — whether to foster the election of a particular candidate or simply to sow doubts about the integrity of our elections — that ought to matter to our president-elect. Can you imagine if the results had been reversed and such hacking had helped his opponent? Mr. Trump had already made clear his intent to tear apart the integrity of the nation's voting system without a shred of evidence had Hillary Clinton won.
On Monday , the Electoral College's members will gather at their respective state capitals and vote. It's about 99.99 percent certain Mr. Trump will win (if only because most states bind their electors), although there are likely to be a handful of protest votes. That some 68 electors asked to be briefed on the hacking matter (which the CIA and others have declined to do while it's under investigation) suggests at least some have taken the matter seriously.
So why hasn't Mr. Trump? He must understand that until he expresses concerns about Russian involvement (aside from the White House's slow reaction to it), his lovefest with Mr. Putin is only going to scare Americans. Bad enough that the president-elect has spoken so adoringly of a man who is believed to have stolen his way to a personal fortune of more than $40 billion. Fellow Republicans are now warming to him as well — a recent poll found 37 percent of Republicans view Mr. Putin favorably compared to 10 percent in 2014. Why? What's happened to the party of Ronald Reagan? It certainly can't be because Russia has become a better, less-human-rights-violating actor on the world stage during the past two years. It's clearly been driven by Mr. Trump, but who or what is driving him?
Perhaps worse is that all this denial and criticism of U.S. intelligence (in stark contrast to the president-elect's thoughts about military generals, incidentally) means that every decision Mr. Trump now makes must be seen through a lens of possible conspiracy. Was there a quid-pro-quo? Is it the appointment of fellow Putin-pal and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state? Does Mr. Putin now enjoy a hall pass to do whatever he likes?
President Barack Obama has called for appropriate retaliatory action against Russia, a policy that shouldn't be regarded as controversial at all under the circumstances. Of course, we can't allow foreign governments to meddle in elections through cyber warfare. It shouldn't matter whether it's Russia, North Korea, China or anyone else. Unfortunately, it's not altogether clear that such a line-in-the-sand will be maintained after Jan. 20 when Mr. Trump is sworn in.
Of all the pinch-me unrealities of the reality TV star's unlikely political ascension, this embrace of a Russian dictator with a total disregard for the truth might be the most stunning. It is a professional propagandist's dream and a nightmare for nations in the Russian sphere of influence, which apparently now includes the United States.