What Did The President-Elect Know, and When Did He Know It?

Kellyanne Conway got grilled by CNN’s Jake Tapper, on why her boss, President-elect Donald Trump, is so soft on Russia, given the evidence that they, and Vladimir Putin, were behind efforts to expose Clinton’s dirty laundry.

With all due respect to Hillary Clinton, we didn’t need Wikileaks to convince the American people they didn’t like her, didn’t trust her, didn’t find her to be honest.

Okay? But we know that the Russians did their damnedest to meddle in American politics. (Sorry, Mrs. Conway, there’s more evidence than just “alleged.”) We know that number-cruncher Nate Silver provided evidence that more voters broke for Trump in the last few weeks of the campaign than for Clinton.

We can’t prove that the Russian hacks, and not FBI Director Comey’s investigation, or Hillary’s health, or a number of other factors, was the deciding one that swung the election to Trump. The government likely knows a whole lot more about Russia’s disinformation, trolling, fake news, and hacking operations than we could–or should–disclose to make a case for actual Russian election-rigging. And even if they did make that case, it’s probably not enough to prove beyond a doubt that Trump was improperly elected.

I expect if there were a preponderance of evidence, President Obama would have thrown methods and sources to the wind and given the report to Congress, to keep Trump out of office.

But there’s just enough information out there to begin asking questions of what did Trump know, and when did he know it?

The Washington Post reported just days after the election that a senior Russian diplomat claimed Kremlin officials conferred with the Trump campaign.

The statement came from Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who said in an interview with the state-run Interfax news agency that “there were contacts” with the Trump team.

“Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage,” Ryabkov said.

“We have just begun to consider ways of building dialogue with the future Donald Trump administration and channels we will be using for those purposes,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying.

Ryabkov provided no further details, and his remarks drew a swift denial from Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks, who said the campaign had “no contact with Russian officials” before Tuesday’s election.

Throughout the campaign, Trump publicly praised Putin, and dismissed his own Russian business ties, and those of some of his key advisers such as Paul Manafort.

Such a public campaign of denials is either simply Trump being Trump, admitting nothing and dissembling to create distractions, or it’s cover for what he really knew.

I agree with Conway in one respect only: It’s irrelevant whether Russian efforts actually did sway voters, regardless of whether the Trump campaign used the information or not (they’d be crazy not to). It is, however, troubling–to say the least–that Trump did so without even the hint of condemning the Russians or Wikileaks for breaking the law and obtaining private data by nefarious means.

Watergate was broken by simply asking the questions, over and over again, what did the president know, and when did he know it? About the break-ins, the “plumbers,” the coverup. It led to the conspiracy which brought down Nixon.

In this case, we need to ask what Trump knew about Wikileaks, and what his team knew, and when did they know it? Finding a “Deep Throat” may be difficult, but not impossible. Or, there may not be one, and Trump simply went opportunistic on the data because he could.

Is that morally bankrupt? Yes, absolutely. Is Conway correct that Trump didn’t need Wikileaks to beat Hillary? We will never know the answer. But if Trump knew that the Russians were behind the document dumps before those leaks went public, that would be enough to unravel his presidency, and sucker-punch confidence in the American government for another 40 years.

We will never get anywhere trying to pressure Trump into condemning Putin for the hacks. But we do need to get to the bottom of this muck. There are already people out there who will never be convinced that Trump is a legitimate president (conservatives, no less). This is going to dog Trump for his entire term if it’s not buttoned up.

It’s possible this is exactly what Obama wanted: a distraction. If that was his objective, he did a good job, and now Congress and the incoming Trump administration must deal with it, and not deny it. The greater the denials, the more it smells like a coverup.

Speaker Paul Ryan’s statement on the Intelligence Community’s report doesn’t address the question of what Trump might know or when he knew it. Trump won, legitimately, from a legal perspective. Whether he won “fair and square” will be a subject for debate long after Jan. 20th until these questions are answered.

About the author

Steve Berman

The old Steve cared about money, prestige, and power. Then Christ found me. All at once things changed. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

I spent 30 years in business. Now I write and edit. But mostly I love. I have a wife and 2 kids and a dog and we live in a little house in central Georgia.

View all posts