The new, and apparently seminal report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on putative Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election has finally been released, providing a 25-page glimpse into the thinking that underpins an allegation which remains the sum total of US electoral politics in recent months.
This appears to be the report that the Obama Administration was heavily pressured to proffer by Congressional Democrats as a way to end public skepticism of the allegations, and attempts to do so, as officials have been for weeks, by declaring Russian intervention, hacking, and what have you as an absolute confirmed fact.
But like the previous reports, evidence to substantiate the claims is wholly lacking. The big difference in the new report is an acknowledgement that they aren’t providing any evidence of what they are alleging, complete with a disclaimer at the top of every page that as a declassified report it “does not include the full supporting information” that some secret other report might.
The evidence-free version was still sufficient to get ample media coverage once again echoing the claims unquestioned, declaring that Putin was driven by “hatred” and warned to “denigrate Secretary Clinton.” The report’s claims largely amount to a collection of the myriad allegations in an easy-to-follow form, but break no new ground.
Once again, the report claims the DNC hacker Guccifer 2.0 was actually the Russian military, providing no evidence for this, and claims DCLeaks.com was the military as well. They claimed the military directly gave WikiLeaks the documents because Putin thought WikiLeaks’ history of accuracy was valuable. No evidence for any of this, but the report did at the very least note that all the WikiLeaks documents appear to have been authentic.
Beyond a very brief rehash of the narrative, and a claim that Putin was bent on destroying the Western liberal order simply to spite Hillary Clinton, the report then gets into by far the deepest section, alleging state-funding media outlet RT America “disparaged” Clinton and wanted Trump to win.
Interestingly in that it’s the part with the most meat, this “propaganda” section is also the part with the most glaring contradiction, arguing on the one hand that Putin was just anti-Clinton and warmed to Trump relatively late in the campaign while at the same time arguing that Russia had hired a bunch of “social media trolls” and that they were all pro-Trump from before the primaries began.
The report also faults RT for covering the Clinton email leaks so extensively, presenting that as proof of their “consistently negative” attitude toward the candidate. US media outlets, of course, largely focused on Clinton’s allegations of Russian plots above the actual email releases.
As has often been the case in previous reports, this one begins with its conclusion and then figures out ways in which the facts could conceivably fit that conclusion. For example, the report notes that Putin did not publicly praise Trump ahead of the election, and then concludes this was a savvy move on the part of the Kremlin because they thought it would “backfire” and hurt Trump’s election chances.
With no existing publicly available evidence for the allegations, and no new evidence emerging from today’s report, it’s not clear that anyone new will be convinced, and President-elect Donald Trump appears to have the same doubts he always did. Ultimately, the only ones likely to be happy with the report are those who were already sold on the allegations before.