- - Monday, December 12, 2016

Allegations of foreign meddling in an American election is serious, indeed. If it happened, it’s a grave threat to how Americans choose their presidents and members of Congress. Russia has been accused of interfering in the recent balloting, casting a taint on whether Donald Trump won fair and square. President Obama’s order to the U.S. intelligence community to conduct a thorough review of cyber-attacks on the campaign is welcome, presuming the intelligence agencies can be trusted to investigate without fear or favor. Official Washington can resemble a hall of mirrors where nothing is as it seems, and discovering where hope and fantasy ends and reality begins would be all to the good.

From biblical days to the present, coping with “wars and rumors of wars” has been a fact of life, and the claims of a Russian hack attack have so far fallen into the category of rumor, rumor pushed along by Democrats and their allies in the media who can’t come to terms with the fact that their candidate lost the election. Both Democrats and Republicans have endorsed the Obama administration’s announcement that a probe into campaign manipulation would reach back to 2008.

Mr. Obama wants the Russian hacking report on his desk by Jan. 20, his last morning in office. His chagrin over the election result raises the question of whether he really wants to get to the bottom of things or merely hopes to unearth a bombshell to put in the path of his successor. House Democrats have a longer-term inquiry in mind, introducing a bill that would impanel a 12-member bipartisan commission to conduct the inquiry.

There’s no doubt that hacking occurred. WikiLeaks posted online tens of thousands of emails and documents obtained from anonymous sources, some of them exposing incriminating communications from senior Democrats, including John Podesta, the chairman of the Clinton campaign, to campaign officials. Republicans were said to be targets of hackers, too.

In October, the Homeland Security Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence asserted the belief that top Russian officials directed the attacks in an effort to influence the election: “The recent disclosures of alleged hacked emails … are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.”

Mrs. Clinton claimed that 17 intelligence agencies agreed that the Russians were responsible for the leaks. This was widely regarded as an exaggeration. Donald Trump’s reaction was measured: “It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.” For whatever it was worth, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said the Kremlin was not involved in providing the documents he released.

Americans deserve to know who launched cyber-attacks on the presidential campaign. Unsubstantiated claims from both Obama administration and anonymous sources have not contributed much to the noise. Weasel words describing evidence “consistent with methods and motivations” have the ring of circumstantial evidence, which authorities sometime fall back on when they’re short on facts. Hacking is not the proper way to achieve transparency, but transparency is exactly what the public deserves.

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