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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

The Obama White House’s December surprise, a new intelligence agency probe into Russia’s hidden hand in influencing the presidential election, has already yielded two new revelations.

The Washington Post reported late Friday that a secret CIA assessment has already found  the Russians helped Trump. The New York Times reported Saturday that the Russians hacked into Republican National Committee computer systems, but did keep that data—unlike the release of damaging communications from the Democratic National Committee during the primaries and emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, during the general election.

Republicans, from the Trump transition team to the RNC, denied that that they were helped or hacked by the Russians, with Trump’s team, saying, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction… It’s now time to move on.”

Significantly, the White House probe will not be conducted by the FBI, whose director, James Comey, announced in late October that the bureau was going to look at newly found emails from Clinton’s private accounts while she was Secretary of State—for classified materials—and then days before the election announced that there was nothing there. That “October surprise” broke Clinton’s slowly growing momentum after the three presidential debates.

“The FBI investigation was looking at specific acts that we saw over the summer and fall of this year,” White House Spokesman Eric Schultz said Friday. “So, as you know, they looked at the hacks at campaign committees like the DNC and other malicious cyber activity that we were detecting.  At the time, they determined that this is activity that could have only been directed from the highest levels of the Russian government.  So, yes, this [intelligence agency probe] is going to put that activity in a greater context. That’s going to look at the pattern of this happening from foreign actors, dating all the way back to 2008.”

Schultz reminded the White House press corps that in 2008, it was Chinese hacking attempts that targeted that year’s presidential campaigns. He said that Russia has a more recent history of trying to sabotage elections in surrounding counties, “and then, of course, in 2016, our intelligence community determined that there was malicious cyber activity intended to interfere with our elections. In the high confidence assessment that was released this past October, the intelligence community made very clear that this was activity directed by the highest levels of the Russian government.”

The WaPo report that grabbed headlines—that the CIA had already concluded that Russia was trying to help Trump—hardly seems like a surprise. While WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has repeatedly said that “no state parties” gave them Podesta’s stolen emails, the Times said intelligence circles had no doubt “Russians gave the Democrats’ documents to WikiLeaks.” What the Times report didn’t raise, but seems more significant in light of the depth of communications taken from Democrats, is what information do they have on the incoming Trump administration that could be used to Russia’s advantage?

While more disclosures are expected from the White House probe, they are likely to fall into the cyber-security fold, Schultz’s statements suggest, but not challenge Trump’s ascension to the presidency in January.

“This is not an effort to challenge the outcome of the election, that we have acknowledged who won the election,” he said. “It wasn’t the candidate that the President campaigned for.  And so the President has actually gone out of his way to make sure that we are providing for a seamless transition of power.  So we’re not calling into question the election results.  We are taking seriously our responsibility to protect the integrity of those elections.”

Schultz said federal agencies did not see a cyber attack on state election systems on Election Day, and considered that matter closed.

“What we determined in mid-November, a few weeks ago now, is that state election systems did not—the federal government did not detect any increased malicious cyber activity on Election Day or related to the administering of the elections,” he said. “So we’ve already made that determination, and that’s something we’ve announced publicly from here. But in terms of what this review will look at, this is going to be a review that’s conducted by the intelligence community.”

Computer scientists involved in the Green Party presidential recount would disagree with the White House spokesperson’s premise—saying hackers place malware in targets long before the attacks are carried out and can be pro-programmed on triggering events.

The White House said it wants its new probe done before Trump is sworn in as president. But the matter is not likely to go away.

Several members of Congress want to investigate Russian interference in the election. Reps. Eric Swalwell, D-CA and Elijah Cummings, D-MD, sponsored legislation to create a bipartisan, independent commission. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, who previously called on Congress to investigate, also wants to head up a review.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights, campaigns and elections, and many social justice issues.

IMAGE: Flickr/DonkeyHotey

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was forced to defend President Donald Trump's recent attacks on MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Tuesday, an unenviable task she nevertheless intentionally signed up for. She desperately tried to divert the attention back to Scarborough — without engaging in the president's conspiracy theorizing — but offered no credible defense of the president's conduct.

Trump has been spreading the debunked theory that Scarborough killed a staffer in 2001 while he was in Congress, even though it was determined she died of natural causes. The staffer's widower wrote a released a letter on Tuesday pleading with Twitter to take down the president's offensive tweets promoting the thoery. He said he was "angry," "frustrated," and "grieved" by the president's promotion of the harmful allegations. Trump is perverting his late wife's memory, he said, and he fears her niece and nephews will encounter these attacks.When asked about the letter, McEnany said she wasn't sure if the president had seen it. But she said their "hearts" are with the woman's family "at this time." It was a deeply ironic comment because the only particularly traumatizing thing about "this time" for the family is the president's attacks, which come nearly two decades after the woman's death.

McEnany refused to offer any explanation of Trump's comments and instead redirected reporters to a clip of Scarborough on Don Imus's radio show in 2003. In that show, Imus made a tasteless joke obliquely referring to the death, and Scarborough laughed at it briefly.

"Why is the president making these unfounded allegations?" asked ABC News' Jonathan Karl. "I mean, this is pretty nuts, isn't it? The president is accusing someone of possible murder. The family is pleading with the president to please stop unfounded conspiracy theories. Why is he doing it?""The president said this morning, this is not an original Trump thought. And it is not," she said, bringing up the Imus clip. But she made no mention of why the president is bringing up the issue 17 years later and with a much larger platform.

When pressed further on the president's conduct, she again diverted blame to Scarborough, saying his morning show unfairly criticizes the president. But again, she offered no substantive defense of Trump.

After McEnany had moved on, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor brought it up again: "Why won't the president give this widower peace and stop tweeting about the conspiracy theory involving his wife?"

McEnany said she had already answered the question, which she hadn't, and said the onus is on Scarborough to explain the Imus clip."The widower is talking specifically about the president!" Alcindor shot back. But McEnany called on Chanel Rion, with the aggressively pro-Trump outlet OAN, who changed the subject to conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russia investigation.

"Are you not going to answer that?" Alcindor called out, still trying to get a substantive response to her question, but Rion spoke over her.

At the end of the briefing, another reporter asked whether Trump was looking for any actual law enforcement steps be taken in response to his conspiracy theory. But McEnany had nothing to add, and simply told people to listen to the Imus clip again. As she hurried out of the briefing room, a reporter asked if Trump would stop promoting the theory — but she left without answering.

Watch the exchange about Klausutis, which begins at 48:45.