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Russian Hacks in Trump’s America

Despite uncertainties about the hack, this situation reveals the correlation of political forces prior to Trump’s inauguration, a crisis within both political parties and tensions between the CIA and government.

Tatiana Cozzarelli

December 23, 2016
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The past few weeks, the media has been up in arms about a supposed Russian hack of the DNC intended to sway the election in favor of the Republicans. More recently, top Democrats stated that Putin himself knew of these hacks. A key piece of circumstantial evidence was the fact that both Democratic and Republican National Committee servers were hacked but no information from the latter was released.

Since then, a political firestorm reflecting an intense crisis in American bourgeois democracy is unraveling in front of the entire nation. Obama said, “there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections that we need to take action, and we will. At a time and a place of our own choosing. Some of it may be explicit and publicized; some of it may not be.” Yet, no decisive action against Russia has been taken.

Despite uncertainties about the hack, this situation reveals the correlation of political forces prior to Trump’s inauguration, a crisis within both political parties and tensions between the CIA and government.

The Hypocrisy of Crying Over Foreign Intervention

We must begin by pointing to the hypocrisy in the US being scandalized by Russian hacks to sway the US elections. The US has overthrown so many foreign leaders and interfered in so many foreign elections that they cannot be listed here. When the CIA interferes, they do much more than hack. From the 1953 ousting of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh to the violent toppling of Chilean President Salvador Allende, by the genocidal dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the US is no stranger to interfering in foreign elections. In fact, Clinton herself partook in the 2009 ousting of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. The CIA has done much more than hack emails; it supported armed insurrections that killed democratically elected leaders. Being appalled that another country would dare attempt to influence US elections reeks of hypocrisy.

The Democrats blame their epic loss in the Presidential elections on the Russian hack. While the leaked documents certainly hurt Clinton’s chances, the content of those documents is her responsibility. The Clinton campaign wanted the most fringe right wing candidates to win the primary, rewarded donations to the Clinton Foundation with political favors as Secretary of State, and accepted a debate question tip off. This is Clinton’s fault, not Russia’s.

Independent of the hacks, Clinton was unable to defeat one the most disliked Presidential candidate of all time, with 60% of voters having an unfavorable opinion of him. She built a campaign around identity politics, calling on a coalition of women, people of color and LGBT people to vote for her, despite her history of racist policies and rhetoric. Yet she refused to discuss the poor and working class, those straddled with debt, in fear of losing their jobs and struggling to make ends meet. She did not see the huge anti-establishment sentiment that Trump capitalized on from the right, blaming Mexicans and Muslims for economic problems. Clinton responded to Trump’s racist ‘Make America Great Again’ by saying that America already was great. This resulted in a drop in the turnout of Democratic voters in Rust Belt states, leading to the Clinton loss. Although the Democrats would love to blame Trump’s victory on the Russians, that responsibility falls squarely on the Democrats and on Clinton.

The facts regarding the Russian hacks are still unfolding, and given the CIA’s own history of interventions, we cannot blindly believe the government. We certainly cannot swallow the story that the Russians are at fault for for a Trump Presidency. We can however, analyze the correlation of forces in this political moment and the political crisis playing out before us.

The Crisis for the Republicans
Prior to the election, principal leaders of the Republican party to distanced themselves from Trump, with some claiming they would not vote for him. After the election, many of those divisions dissipated as previous critics rallied around the victor. This moment of unity has all but vanished before Trump has even taken office.

In response to allegations of Russian hacking, Trump initially not only denied that this was the case, but degraded the CIA by tweeting: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction” and “I don’t believe they interfered. That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say ‘oh, Russia interfered.” This level of dismissal of an institution central to American imperialism by the incoming President is unprecedented.

This dismissal is in line with Trump’s announcement that he did not need to receive intelligence briefings every day. He said “ I am a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years.” Instead, Trump says he would be informed when something changed. These statements represent an utter disregard for the importance of intelligence agencies to the American project, agencies that previous presidents have exalted and held up as all but infallible.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal says Trump is “increasingly alone” in denying the Russian hacks. Most Republicans believe the intelligence suggesting a hack, and call for a serious investigation despite Trump’s disbelief. John McCain stated that “This is serious business. If they’re able to harm the electoral process, they may destroy democracy, which is based on free and fair elections.” Top Republicans have vowed to work with Democrats to investigate Russia’s involvement in the elections.

This demonstrates that the deep divisions exhibited by Republican leaders coming out against President Trump continue, forcing Trump to take a more moderate his tone in relation to Russian hacking. On Sunday, Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said the president-elect “would accept the conclusion if these intelligence professionals would get together, put out a report, show the American people that they are actually on the same page.” Trump was forced to take this more moderate stance by mounting pressure to accept the CIA report.

The Crisis Between Government Departments

The CIA’s report of Russian interference also opened conflicts between the different sectors of the government. At first, a conflict between the FBI and the Democrats arose when FBI director James Comey re-opened an investigation into the Clinton email scandal only a few weeks before the election. Top Democrats claim that Comey is the reason that Clinton lost the election. Now, they claim that Comey had intelligence that demonstrated Russia was hacking the DNC to aid Trump and did nothing about it. Harry Reid said, “Intelligence officials are hiding connections to the Russian government. There is no question. Comey knew and deliberately kept this info a secret.” Reid went so far as to demand that Comey resign. These criticisms from the Democrats are not the same as Trump’s criticism of the CIA in that they are aimed at an individual rather than the entire FBI. However, both attacks serve to erode public confidence in institutions that are supposed to hold a moral high ground above politics.

Conflict between the FBI and CIA also emerged soon after the CIA pointed decisively to Russia as the perpetrator of the hacks with the purpose of helping the Republicans win the election. The FBI on the other hand, said that the evidence was “fuzzy” and “ambiguous.” In other words, the top two US intelligence agencies were in disagreement about the role of Russia in the elections, further weakening their authority. A few days later, Comey agreed with the CIA’s assessment that Russia interfered in the election to favor Trump, according to an internal CIA memo published by the Washington Post. Although rather quickly the CIA and FBI were on the same page, the original moment of conflict between the two primary US intelligence agencies further erodes their credibility.

The Crisis with Tillerson

In the midst of this political chaos, Donald Trump added another element to the mix, the nomination of Rex Tillerson as the Secretary of State. Tillerson is the chief executive of Exxon Mobil and has Exxon stocks worth more than $200m and a pension worth about $70m. In his role as chief executive, Tillerson was closely tied to Russia, even winning the Russian Order of Friendship Award in 2013. Particularly, Tillerson had secured a contract to explore the Kara Sea, but when Russia annexed Crimea and invaded east Ukraine, the US imposed sanctions, ending the possibility of Exxon continuing its lucrative endeavor. Clearly, it’s in Exxon’s best interests to lift sanctions in order to continue a profitable relationship with Russia. Tillerson already said he was against sanctions, saying “We always encourage the people who are making those decisions to consider the very broad collateral damage of who they are really harming.” The collateral damage in this case is the billion dollar profits of Exxon Mobil.

This week a leaked document also showed that Tillerson was the long-time director of a US-Russian oil firm based in the tax haven of the Bahamas and did not emerge by Tillerson or Trump’s reporting. These documents continue to confirm the long term close ties between Tillerson and Russia.

Trump’s nomination of Tillerson as Secretary of State raised more than a few eyebrows, with top Republicans like John McCain and Marco Rubio expressing concern with this pick. It confirms suspicions of a close relationship between Trump and Russia, lending credence to the claim that Russia interfered to help him win. This occurs in a moment where Russian-backed forces in Syria entered Aleppo, committing mass murder and unspeakable torture of those who still live there.

Trump represents a wing of the bourgeoisie embodied by Tillerson, who stands to benefit from having a better relationship with Russia. While for one sector of the bourgeoisie, Russia and China are both powerful foreign enemies to the US, the Trump wing sees it differently. In the weeks before taking office, Trump is building an antagonistic relationship with China with his call to Taiwan and the recent drone scandal. At the same time, he seeks to rekindle friendly economic relations with Russia, from which rich capitalists like Tillerson stand to gain.

Crisis Among the Democrats

Nearly all government agencies are in agreement; Russia interefered with the election to help Trump win. In an election as close as this one, it is not difficult to infer that without this interference, Clinton may have won the election, despite her disastrous campaign. Facing such an appalling fact, the Democrats have been silent and immobilized. Some Democrat figureheads made some fiery remarks, but no one proposed or went forward with a measure with any teeth. The Clinton campaign asked electors to be briefed about the CIA intelligence knowing this would in no way alter the outcome of the elections.

It is hard to imagine a more substantive basis on which to demand another election. Certainly, this would be unprecedented, but so is the claim that a foreign government rigged a US election. And yet, even in this situation, the Democrats refuse to ask for another election and refuse push against the system, even in the interest of a Clinton Presidency. Instead, the Democrats are using this to create an unfavorable political climate for Trump, although Trump has always been one to ignore the weather. This is another piece of evidence that the Democrats are bankrupt, unable to fight, even for their own electoral interests.

Limits for the Trump Administration

Clearly, the idea that Russian interfered in the election has reached a near consensus in Washington, with Republicans, Democrats, the CIA and FBI all arguing the same point. Trump positioned himself on the opposite end, nominating Tillerson, degrading intelligence agencies and positioning him as amicable to Russian. This conflict creates limits for the Trump administration, making it difficult for them to govern the way Trump wanted. His honeymoon period with the Republican party may be coming to a close, with leaders positioning themselves against Trump before he even took office.

Trump’s foreign policy of creating a more amicable relationship with Russia will clearly have limits set up by the political establishment. One of the first important political battles that Trump will have to face is the confirmation of Tillerson, which will be a first test of the strength of the Trump administration in relation to a political establishment that he derides.

The Catch 22 of the Russian Hack

If indeed all of these sectors of American government maintain that Russia interfered in the US election, they clearly create a limit to Trump’s Russia-friendly policies. However, they also create an important political problem for themselves; publicly admitting that Russia interfered with a US election shows that the US is vulnerable to Russian hack. That in fact, the leading political figures in a very important US election are vulnerable to Russian attack, demonstrating immense American weakness and ostensibly, a crisis of US imperialist hegemony.

One of Trump’s latest tweets reflects tensions between the US and Russia beyond the business level. Putin said that Russia seeks to “enhance the combat capability of strategic nuclear forces, primarily by strengthening missile complexes that will be guaranteed to penetrate existing and future missile defense systems,” In response, Trump tweeted, “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” These tweets demonstrate that although Trump seems open to greater business relations with Russia, he also seeks to position the US as the clear imperialist hegemon and supreme world nuclear power. This is not, however, a response to election hacks, which Trump continues to be skeptical about.

Erosion of faith in the government

Another effect of this scandal is a public erosion of faith in the government and its institutions. This erosion does not mean that people will move to the left; Trump demonstrates that anti-establishment sentiments and a lack of faith in the federal government can exist on the right. However, this also leaves open space for the left: for those who see that bourgeois democracy and the two primary capitalist parties represent the interests of the capitalist class.

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Tatiana Cozzarelli

Tatiana is a former middle school teacher and current Urban Education PhD student at CUNY.

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