BY JOHN SHAFFER
President Trump’s Press Secretary Sean Spicer got off to a rocky start, calling out the press for reporting that President Trump had removed the bust of Martin Luther King Jr. from the Oval Office. That report was false, and easily confirmable. Unfortunately, the reporter who first reported the false claim (based on the fact that he did not see the bust – he later said that a Secret Service agent was standing in front of it) did not do anything to confirm his observation – such as asking, “Where’s the bust?” Anyway, Mr. Spicer had him dead to rights. (The writer did apologize and the apology was accepted). Mr. Spicer could have gone home with a big victory – but then he weakened his argument by bringing up what he said was another false story, namely that the crowd that witnessed President Trump’s inaugural was bigger than that at President Obama’s inaugural. Just as the Martin Luther King Jr. bust removal story was easily proven false, so too was the claim about the inauguration. Mr. Spicer made several points that were quickly proven wrong, thus weakening his position as Press Secretary and diverting the administration into a sideshow battle that it could not win. This all started in reaction to the Park Service's release of side by side aerial photographs of the first Obama inauguration in 2009 and the Trump inauguration of 2017, and they clearly indicate that President Obama drew a much larger crowd.
By John Shaffer
We continue to have some doubts about the CIA's claim that “Russia hacked the election," and the reprehensible behavior of John Brennan, CIA Director, who publicly scolded President-Elect Trump for failing to take the threat from Russia seriously underscores those doubts. Mr. Brennan’s accusations occurred during an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News, and it is to be regretted that Mr. Wallace failed to ask Mr. Brennan why the CIA Director did not take President Obama to task publicly when he removed the defensive missiles from the Czech Republic and Poland during the early days of his administration. The Russians were overjoyed; the Poles and Czechs were dispirited and felt as if the rug had been pulled from beneath their feet, and other nations on the borders of Russia determined that the US would not firmly resist Russian aggression or demands, so they had best accept Russia’s terms. Or if the CIA Director took the President to task publicly when the Russians seized the Crimea, or made incursions on Ukraine? If Mr. Brennan disagreed with Mr. Obama’s “soft approach” or “reset” with Russia, he surely did not vocalize it publicly. Did the CIA Director publicly rebuke President Obama for reassuring the Russian President that he (Mr. Obama) “would have more flexibility after the [2012 Presidential] election?” Or when President Obama mocked Republican candidate Mitt Romney for stating that “Russia was our biggest geopolitical threat,” – remember- the President chided Mr. Romney with “The 1980s called – they want their foreign policy back.”
Well, last week we expressed doubt that the Russians were behind the intrusion that disclosed embarrassing emails from John Podesta and other Democratic party operatives. Since then, the agencies have issued a report and the consensus is that the Russians indeed were responsible.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence report is strong on opinion and scanty on detail, but seven pages of the report concerned Russian Television and said it influenced the election “by serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences.” “Russian media made increasingly favorable comments about President-elect Trump as the 2016 general and primary election campaigns progressed while consistently offering negative coverage of Secretary Clinton.” Wow! What a searing indictment! If we can be pardoned for continuing to wonder about all of this –we wish the ODNI would explain to us: How did the programming on Russian Television – which is available to very few customers in the US and is watched by even fewer of them – “influence” the election, especially considering that the US mainstream media, which is available to almost every American and is watched by most of them spent most of the election campaign making favorable comments about Hillary Clinton and consistently offered negative coverage of Donald Trump. We are asked to believe that the allegedly pro-Trump, anti-Hillary position of Russian Television, which no one watches, had a greater influence than the pro-Hillary anti-Trump spin on almost every other network, which almost everyone watches; or even than Fox News, which had a pro-Trump, anti-Hillary perspective and millions of viewers (and which President Obama has blamed on many occasions for turning Americans away from him). I guess we just don’t understand how “influence” works.
By John Shaffer
We have no inside knowledge of exactly how emails from John Podesta, Donna Brazile, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats were obtained. They could have been stolen, they could have been hacked, they could have been leaked, or perhaps there was some other cause. We lean to believing that it was a leak, most likely from a Democratic party staffer who objected to the way the party leadership interfered with Bernie Sanders’ candidacy; or that Mr. Podesta foolishly gave his password in a “phising” episode. We think it is incredibly unlikely, though not impossible, that “the Russians” did it, because the US authorities who claim that they did have been notoriously reluctant to provide the actual evidence. We find it even more unlikely that “the Russians” favored Donald Trump’s candidacy because they thought Hillary Clinton would be tougher on them. We think this because Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State: 1) when the Obama Administration halted the program to place defensive missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic (Russia opposed the placement of the missiles); 2) for the “reset” of relations with Russia – reset, we note from the less-than-friendly view that the Bush Administration had with Russia; 3) when a Russian millionaire crony of Vladimir Putin acquired control of a Canadian uranium company (after a $2 million donation to the Clinton Foundation); and we should note that the Obama Administration did nothing when Russia annexed the Crimea and seized part of Ukraine, and who can forget when President Obama reassured the President of Russia not to worry, because Mr. Obama “would have more flexibility after the election.” Anyway – we find it hard to swallow that Putin feared that Mrs. Clinton would be “tough” on him – because she never had been. Oh, yes, she did make a few statements about Putin’s treatment of his political opponents in 2011, but she was hardly a lone voice crying out against Mr. Putin, and her remarks were relatively mild and little more than pro forma and they were far less critical that those of many observers at the time.
Our next point: the “election” was not “hacked” – not by the Russians, not by anyone else. The voting rolls were not tampered with; the voting machines were not tampered with; the results were not tampered with; the count was not tampered with. Don’t take our word for it - The President himself said that in mid November (after Mrs. Clinton was defeated) that the election was free and fair; his own Attorney General said “we didn’t see the sort of technical interference. . .in terms of voting machines and the like.” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson (like Mrs. Lynch, an Obama appointee) said that the DHS cyber security team “we see no evidence that hacking by any actor altered the ballot count or any cyber actions that deprived people of voting.”
Yes, someone disclosed thousands of emails that were embarrassing to Mrs. Clinton and her top operatives. But not even once has even one of the recipients or even one of authors of even one of the emails in question asserted that the content was false or tampered with. Every email that was released was one written by and sent by or sent to a top Democratic party personage. And those people and the party obviously would have preferred that none of the material was disclosed – but political parties and government officials are always trying to keep their business secret, and that is especially true of potentially embarrassing items during an election campaign. The Obama administration and the Hillary Clinton campaign are claiming that the release of those emails was detrimental to her campaign. It probably was, but so were most of the 55,000 emails from Mrs. Clinton’s tenure at the State Department that were ordered released by a judge. We think that the “Russian hacking” claim is just one more effort to overturn the election, or at a minimum to undercut Mr. Trump’s victory; this includes the recount, the claim that the popular vote should determine the winner, the attempt to subvert the electoral college, and other ploys.
Anyway, if there was hacking the hackers should be confronted and punished, and the President has expelled 35 Russian “diplomats” (and we use the term loosely) in retaliation for the “hacking,” and it may be apt and the right thing to do. But it does raise the question of why the President did not retaliate when the State Department email system was victimized by a cyber attack by Russian hackers; nor did he retaliate when the fingerprints of 5.6 million Americans were stolen; nor did he retaliate when Chinese hackers launched multiple cyber attacks on the United States, some of which resulted in the theft of intellectual property.
And then we have this report from NBC News: “[The Obama Administration] thought [Mrs. Clinton] was going to win, so they were willing to kick the can down the road.” In other words, they didn’t want to get involved in a potential cyber-war, or in other ways to upset the applecart for a new Clinton administration. Obviously, they have no such concerns about what might befall a new Trump administration.
The lesson of this episode, for political party operatives and government workers alike, is this: do not use unsecured email for sensitive communications; do not presume one’s email is secure; do not use email to make embarrassing gossip or revelations, insults or flippant comments. Mr. Podsesta and the Democratic National Committee have learned this the hard way.
The naked truth is that the American voter has known Mrs. Clinton for over 24 years, and over that time, a lot of people have grown to love her, and a lot of people have grown to dislike her. The voters who liked her didn’t change their minds because of the emails, and the ones who didn’t like her had made up their mind long before the emails were leaked.