Read: Donald Trump’s pattern of deference to the Kremlin is clear
Regardless of the details, it’s hard not to see this hack as a fruit of Trump’s refusal to push back on Russian cyberaggression. The best defense against hacks is deterrence, but rather than deter the Kremlin, the president has repeatedly refused to even acknowledge previous Russian actions—basically giving Vladimir Putin an invitation to continue and amplify attacks, secure in the knowledge that whatever sanctions lower-level officials impose, Trump is uninterested in retaliating. The president has remained publicly silent about the new hack even now.
The problem is not that Trump is an active Russian agent. (There is no evidence that he is, despite some hysterical claims.) Nor is it that members of his campaign colluded with Russia in 2016 (though they did). Instead, as I wrote in April 2019, Trump refuses to protect the country from Russian hacking, “because it’s politically inconvenient and personally irritating to him.” The president is so furious over the implication that Russian assistance helped him triumph in 2016 that he has been unable to bring himself to acknowledge not only what happened then but anything that has happened since with regards to Russia.
David A. Graham: Trump refuses to defend the United States
During the 2016 campaign, despite having been briefed on Russia’s role by United States intelligence officials, Trump continued to speculate that the person who hacked the Democratic National Committee “could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.” In July 2017, in Poland, he momentarily seemed to acknowledge Russia’s role—“I think it was Russia”—and then promptly muddied the waters: “and I think it could have been other people in other countries. It could have been a lot of people.” At his disastrous summit with Putin in July 2018, Trump announced that he trusted the Russian president’s denials more than he did his own government. “They said, ‘I think it is Russia,’” he said. “I have President Putin. He just said it is not Russia. I will say this: I do not see any reason why it would be.” Trump’s chief of staff reportedly warned against bringing up Russia around the president because it enraged him. Trump never condemned Russian interference in 2016, and his administration blocked some efforts at strengthening election-security defenses.
The irony is that, despite the protestations of some members of the Trump “resistance,” there’s little reason to believe Russia’s meddling was responsible for his victory. There were many factors in that win—Trump’s effective messaging, his willingness to froth up racism, the Hillary Clinton campaign’s strategic choices, FBI Director James Comey’s handling of an investigation into Clinton’s email—but the Russian actions appear to have been a small factor, if they were one at all.