- - Sunday, January 15, 2017

The news stories about the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election won’t end this week, this month or this year. That narrative is just a new version of the “Bush was selected, not elected” meme from the 2000 election.

Sixteen years ago the left and the media — not that they’re separable — tried to convince the American people that George W. Bush stole the election from Al Gore. Now, with the help of the American intelligence community (IC), they have substituted hacking Vlad for hanging chads.

Mr. Trump has made it easy for the media/liberal axis to keep this story afloat by strangely and repeatedly praising Russian President Vladimir Putin. Rex Tillerson’s nomination to be secretary of State was used by several senators at his confirmation hearing last week to portray him and Mr. Trump as Mr. Putin’s stooges.

The most troubling aspect of this is the Jan. 6 joint report by the CIA, FBI and NSA on the Russian interference in the election. President Obama ordered the report on Dec. 9. It was published less than a month later, two weeks before President-elect Trump takes office.

The report finds that Mr. Putin ordered a campaign to influence and discredit the 2016 election, saying that its goals were to undermine the democratic process and to disadvantage Mrs. Clinton and benefit Mr. Trump.

In the key passage, the report says that Mr. Putin wanted to discredit Mrs. Clinton because he blamed her for inciting mass demonstrations against him five years ago and because he holds a grudge against her for comments “he almost certainly saw as disparaging him.” Who believes Mr. Putin is thin-skinned?

The report states that Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple U.S., state or local electoral boards, though it didn’t manage to compromise vote tallying. In other words, the Russians didn’t interfere with vote counts, only managing a propaganda campaign against Mrs. Clinton.

But propaganda, by definition, is false. Neither the DNC nor Mrs. Clinton’s campaign claimed that the released emails were false or forged.

To say the least, the conclusions about Mr. Putin’s motives are, at best, broad speculation. Moreover, they appear contrary to the most learned assessments of Mr. Putin’s history and motivations as well as those we can extract from Mrs. Clinton’s memoir of her State Department tenure, “Hard Choices.”

Masha Gessen’s “The Man Without a Face,” describes how the KGB promoted Mr. Putin from relative obscurity to great power and that he is as thin-skinned as a rhinoceros. Walter Laquer’s “Putinism,” details how and why Mr. Putin’s philosophy is a combination of calculated incitement of Russian nationalism and a determined quest to restore Russia to superpower status.

Mrs. Clinton’s memoir shows how she engineered the risible “reset” with Russia and, by implication, how she and Mr. Obama were manipulated by Mr. Putin into an arms treaty that disadvantages America. From all of that, it’s very hard to see how Mr. Putin would hold a grudge against Mrs. Clinton, or why he would prefer Mr. Trump to her.

There are many reasons to believe the IC report is politically-motivated. In December the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) requested an IC briefing on the alleged Russian election cyberattacks. HPSCI was refused the briefing, which indicates an IC desire to avoid scrutiny.

Two days before the Jan. 6 report was released, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat, warned Mr. Trump of a political backlash from the IC because of his questioning the legitimacy of the IC probe into Russia’s alleged attempts to interfere in the election. Had he already seen it?

The IC report may be the backlash Mr. Schumer predicted. It may also be a rebellion against Mr. Trump’s plans to reform the IC. In either case, it is partly a fake news campaign — known in the intelligence business as “disinformation” — to damage the incoming president. The disinformation campaign continued last week with an IC leak of another allegation, this time that Russia held financial and personal information about Mr. Trump that would compromise his presidency.

Mr. Trump is unwise in accepting the word of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange who has denied that Russia was the source of the material. Nor are Mr. Putin’s denials to be believed. We have re-entered the era in which no Russian action can be believed until it has officially been denied. We will be unwise to believe the IC report without real proof.

Mr. Trump is smart enough to be speaking of friendship toward Mr. Putin to create his own disinformation campaign, intended to deprive Mr. Putin of his best tool — the appearance of threats by America — in his constant campaign to stir Russian nationalism. If it is, to the contrary, evidence of a real desire to form some sort of alliance with Russia, it will backfire on Mr. Trump, probably at great cost to us. The best Mr. Trump can hope for is some reduction of tensions between the two nations.

What is most troubling is the appearance that the IC is conducting a disinformation campaign against our president-elect. If it is, the need to reform of our intelligence community becomes all the more urgent.

Jed Babbin served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration. He is a senior fellow of the London Center for Policy Research and the author of five books including “In the Words of Our Enemies.”

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