While there is considerable genuine concern that the Trump team has had improper or illegal contact with Russian intelligence, it’s plain that some of the fury against Trump is rooted in the notion that this election was somehow “stolen” by Russia (and Trump.) You see all the time the contention that if the FBI or the media had paid as much attention to Trump’s alleged Russia connections as it did to Hillary’s emails, Trump wouldn’t be president.
But while reviewing the timelines for my piece on the homepage today, I was struck by the amount of relevant information that was in the public domain before the election. Consider the following:
-The candidates and the press extensively discussed (and debated) Russian efforts to hack the DNC and Russian use of WikiLeaks to embarrass Democrats.
-The press widely reported that Trump’s campaign chair, Paul Manafort, stepped down in large part because of controversies surrounding his alleged ties to Russia.
-Democrats attacked Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page for his alleged ties to Moscow, causing him to step down from the campaign.
-In August, the New York Times reported that a “secret ledger” showed “$12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated from Mr. Manafort” from a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party between 2007 and 2012.
-One week before the election, “law enforcement and intelligence sources” leaked that the FBI was conducting a “preliminary inquiry” into Manafort’s business connections.
-It was well known and thoroughly debated that Trump had an odd and troubling habit of praising Vladimir Putin and excusing Russian crimes.
Given all this, consider me extremely skeptical that a few public statements from Obama (who campaigned his heart out for Hillary) or another leaked story or two would have made a difference. Remember, Hillary built virtually her entire campaign around a single theme — Donald Trump is dreadful. Entire news cycles spent on claims of sexual assault, or on responses to Trump’s attacks on a Gold Star family, or any of the countless pre-election controversies hammered home the Democrats singular message. But it wasn’t enough.
None of this means that investigations aren’t necessary. Presidential victories can’t whitewash wrongdoing. But Democrats can’t take solace in the idea that but for Russia interference — or but for better media coverage — Clinton would have won. The voters heard a considerable amount of evidence, and they made their choice. Trump is not an “accidental” president.