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Commentary: Where's the evidence that Russia hacked the Democrats?

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a glass during a ceremony of receiving diplomatic credentials from foreign ambassadors in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Nov. 9, 2016.

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Have you seen any conclusive evidence that Russia hacked Democratic email servers in order to get Donald Trump elected president?

Sure, there’s some reason to think Moscow wanted Trump to win, and some cybersecurity firms say the evidence points to Russian intelligence. But nearly two weeks after The Washington Post published a bombshell report saying that the CIA believes the hack was not only ordered by the Kremlin but done with the intent of helping Trump, we’ve seen very little real evidence to back up that conclusion.

It feels safe to say the Russians were likely responsible, and that they were happy Trump won. For one thing, Trump made better relations with Russia a central part of his policy platform, and was hesitant to ever criticize Vladimir Putin.

Trump has also flirted with breaking up NATO and has shown no interest in lecturing other nations about their human rights abuses. So it’s not hard to imagine why Putin might have had an interest in helping Trump’s campaign in any way he could.

Still, we’ve seen no real evidence to support the idea that he ordered the hack. So it’s a bit odd that the elite liberal consensus, one shared by many Beltway conservatives, is that Trump is some kind of unwitting pawn of the evil Russians.

Well, in fairness, maybe not that odd. Clinton supporters are looking everywhere for a scapegoat to explain their candidate’s surprising loss, whether it be James Comey’s FBI or the phenomenon of “fake news.” And now they seem to have settled on Russia, our old Cold War foe, as the number one culprit. Here’s how The New York Times’ Paul Krugman, a die-hard Clintonite, put it earlier this week:

There’s still not much by way of proof that any of Krugman’s preferred villains delivered the election to Trump. Yes, late deciders broke for the Republicans this year, but there’s no data to suggest that was because of the DNC and John Podesta email hacks, which in truth didn’t reveal all that much. The contents of the emails were much more “Veep” than “House of Cards,” which did not come as a surprise to anyone with a passing understanding of how Washington works.

Still, you get why Krugman wants to blame his party’s failures on someone else; as an economist, after all, Krugman has advocated for many of the neoliberal economic policies, from free trade to greater globalization, that were rejected by voters this year. For that reason, the defeat was probably particularly painful for him, because in a sense it was a repudiation of much of that thinking.

But is it not a bit silly for the rest of us to fully embrace the secret conclusions of a secret report from the CIA? Since when did we all start accepting the conclusions of the intelligence community as gospel, anyway?

The CIA has, to put it mildly, an imperfect track record when it comes to things like this. As blithely wrongheaded as Trump’s dismissal of The Washington Post story was, he wasn’t wrong when he said of the CIA that these are the same people convinced that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The CIA was also famously among the last to understand that the Soviet Union was falling apart.

Liberals, in particular, are typically the ones who treat the CIA with a healthy dose of skepticism. Yet here they are, when it’s suddenly convenient, saying that we should just take the CIA’s word for it, no questions asked. I’ve heard the argument that it’s unpatriotic to question our spy agencies, but one can admire much about the CIA and still think that it’s important that they be fully transparent when it comes to a case of this gravity.

Meanwhile, a lot of liberals are upset that Trump took a call from the leader of Taiwan because it could endanger our relationship with the Chinese. That argument makes a lot of sense; we shouldn’t go around recklessly alienating great nuclear powers.

But if we’re going by that standard, doesn’t it make sense to hold off on blaming the Russians for something so egregious until the public knows more? Should we really be gearing up for Cold War II, or questioning the legitimacy of our election, for reasons that could amount to no more than a spy’s hunch?

A lot of people in Washington make a living pretending they’re national security experts, so allow me to confess my ignorance: I’m no expert, I don’t speak Russian, I’ve never even been to that country. I’m totally open to the idea that they were behind this, and if they were, there must pay some kind of price. 

Until then, this rhetorical sabre-rattling with the Russians should be put on hiatus. If Moscow is responsible for the hack, then it makes sense for us to retaliate in some way. In the meantime, however, the most important thing is for the information the CIA has to be released to the public. Let the intelligence community make their case, and then we can decide.

Until then, the responsible course of action is to stop pretending we know who did the hacking. Because, as of right now, we in the public and the press simply do not. 

  • Will Rahn

    Will Rahn is a political correspondent and managing director, politics, for CBS News Digital.