Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Allegations by CIA of Russian hacking of US presidential elections to favor Trump would doubtless be on Christmas Day menu in American homes. Outgoing President Obama orders full disclosure by intel agencies of findings before Jan. 19, as former CIA Acting Director labels the hacking "the political equivalent of 9/11."

In the long history of US presidential elections, this kind of development has never happened, and one would think it could only happen in Third-World countries such as the Philippines where ruckuses over elections are nearly always par for the course. Yet it’s happening in America, as report has surfaced from no less than the Central Intelligence Agency that US elections last November were hacked---by Russia allegedly to influence the victory of Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton. 

In fact, today (Dec. 15) US intelligence officials were quoted by NBC News asserting that they believe "with high level of confidence" that Russian President Vladimir Putin "became personally involved in the covert Russian conspiracy to interfere in the US presidential elections."

What’s interesting is that those making the biggest noise about this allegation--and demanding full-dress investigation---are Republicans themselves. President Obama, who’s bowing out of office on Jan. 20 as the US makes way for the newly-elected President, has called on all the US intelligence agencies to disclose their findings to the American public on the supposed hacking, before its new leader's inauguration.  


The gravity of the situation can be gleaned from the fact that no less than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell broke away from President-elect Trump over this issue and supports full congressional investigation.  McConnell praised the American intelligence community, saying he has "the highest confidence in this group, especially the Central Intelligence Agency"---which co-incidentally Trump recently lambasted over its findings. 

A bipartisan group of senators-–namely, Republicans John McCain of Arizona, himself once a presidential candidate too, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Jack Reed of Rhode Island-–last Sunday called for an investigation into the intel community's finding on Russia’s alleged attempt to influence last November’s elections. 

So serious is the situation that former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell was quoted as asserting: "A foreign government messing around in our elections is, I think, an existential threat to our way of life. To me, this is not an overstatement, this is THE POLITICAL EQUIVALENT OF 9/11."


Trump has found himself in the unenviable--- and rather unpatriotic---position of defending Putin and Russia.  Since his victory last Nov. 8, considered “shocking” by a lot of US political pundits, Trump has been mired in one controversy after another, so that some people now are beginning to wonder out loud if his impending presidency can even survive long enough for him to be sworn in. On Sunday morning he blasted the intel community anew, terming its assessment that Russia interfered in the US elections "ridiculous."

"I think it's just another excuse. I don't believe it," he was quoted in an interview on "Fox News Sunday." But the unenviable situation Trump may be in now could be his own doing: it will be recalled that during the presidential campaign, he was heard calling on Russia ("if you're listening...") to hack the Clinton emails. Pretty soon such emails began emerging from Wikileaks. 


In another rather bizarre twist, Dmitri Alperovitch, a U.S. cyber-security expert, of Russian descent no less, came on CNN to relate how his team had been on to the Russian hacking for weeks even before the elections. Alperovitch alleged that the hackers were from two separate groups operating under the supervision of Russian Intelligence.  One of them, he claimed, is the GRU, the intel arm of the Russian military.  

Former CIA operative Robert Baer says if the CIA can prove that Russia interfered with the 2016 elections then “we may need a new vote.”  Baer said that if the US got caught in hacking another democratic country's elections and trying to influence the results, that country would doubtless be calling for new elections and this would make sense, he stressed, since the election results have been “compromised". 

The former CIA operative went on to say that "Putin hates Clinton because of the former US Secretary of State's criticism of Russia over its invasion of Ukraine (in 2014).” Hillary Clinton served as President Obama’s Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013.  


Obama has called for a broader investigation and directed all intel agencies to make public their findings before January 19, one day before the swearing-in of the new President.  Some US observers are quite agog over this alleged cyber-security breach of the US elections, for a number of reasons. 

On the political front, Clinton won in the popular vote but lost in the electoral votes to Trump. She was widely favored in the weeks preceding the elections but later polls revealed a tightening race. What appeared to help Trump was the FBI’s sudden reinforcement of Hillary’s unauthorized use of her private email to funnel official mail as State Department Chief. 

Still, allegations of cyber-hacking to influence the results of the US elections in Trump’s favor could raise all kinds of questions---not to mention straining anew US-Russia relations and the all-important issue of the balance of power in the world.  


It’s pertinent to recall that this would be the second time that the American public---and the world at large because of the dominant role of the US in the global scenario---are going to be on tenterhooks over the result of recent elections.  

In the 2000 US presidential elections, the proclaimed victory of Republican candidate George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore was delayed for some time because of perceived glitches in the ballots in four counties in Florida. The system of hole-punching in Florida ballots produced multiple candidates when all that was needed by the winner were---and are---270 votes from the Electoral College.  What complicated the picture in Florida was that its state supreme court, in a 7-2 vote, ordered state-wide manual recount. On Dec. 9, 2000, however,  the US Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote ordered the state court TO ABANDON the Florida recount. 


It’s worth quoting here the main thesis advanced by SC decision-writer (the ponente, as we call it here) Justice Scalia, as follows: “The counting of votes that are of questionable legality does in my view threaten irreparable harm to petitioner Bush, and to the country, by casting a cloud upon what he claims to be the legitimacy of his election. Count first and rule upon legality afterwards is not a recipe for producing election results that have the public acceptance that democratic stability requires.” 

These words of immense sense are worth internalizing by our politicos too.

It’s also worth quoting here Democrat Al Gore’s beautiful concession speech to Republican George W. Bush on Dec. 13, 2000, as he borrowed from Sen. Stephen Douglas, who lost to President Abraham Lincoln in the hotly contested 1860 US presidential elections: “Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I’m with you, Mr. President, and God bless you.” 


To this quote from Abe Lincoln’s opponent, Al Gore added his own: “Well, in that same spirit, I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside, and may God bless his stewardship of this country. Neither he nor I anticipated this long and difficult road. Certainly, neither of us wanted it to happen. Yet it came and now it has ended, resolved as it must be resolved through the honorable institution of our democracy.” 

It should be noted that Electoral College gave Bush 271 electoral votes---one vote more than the required votes to win---while Al Gore garnered 266 electoral votes. That's how close the race was. 

It must be noted, however, that the Trump-Clinton dispute of 2016 is an entirely different ballgame as there’s the most serious allegation of cyber-security breach of the US elections allegedly through Russian hacking. The question on American---and everyone else's---minds is: if they could hack the US elections, what can they not hack? 

I'm sure the world will hear more about this US election mess in coming days and that these hacking allegations will be the most popular topic during Christmas dinners all over the US. 

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