Quick Takes: The Difference Between Skepticism and Disparagement

* Ellen Nakashima and Haroun Demirjian provide some highlights from todays Senate hearing.

The country’s top intelligence official said Thursday that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign consisted of hacking, as well as the spreading of traditional propaganda and “fake news.”

“Whatever crack, fissure, they could find in our tapestry . . . they would exploit it,” said Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on foreign cyberthreats, and especially Russian hacking and interference in the campaign.

President-elect Donald Trump has loudly and repeatedly voiced skepticism that the Kremlin was orchestrating the effort, directly clashing with the view of the U.S. intelligence community and the committee’s chairman, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)…

Clapper replied that “there is an important distinction here between healthy skepticism, which policymakers, to include policymaker Number 1, should always have for intelligence, but I think there is a difference between skepticism and disparagement.’’

* Andy Greenberg provides a helpful timeline of “Trump’s strange, contradictory statements on Russian hacking.”

The man who’s about to lead those intelligence agencies, meanwhile, hasn’t called for more evidence to be made public, or demanded an investigation, as have several of his Republican colleagues in Congress. Instead, president-elect Donald Trump has come to his own conclusions about the source of the attack. First, it was the Democrats themselves. Later, he said it could be Russia, but it could also be China, or it could be somebody sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds, OK?

He’s said Russian hackers probably accessed Hillary Clinton’s emails, and hoped they would release them. At times, he’s argued no one knows who hacked the DNC. Most recently, he’s said he possesses information about the hacking that he knows, but other people don’t, and that he would release it by today.

On Tuesday night, Trump wavered again, implying that his promised revelation was delayed because his intelligence briefing on the hacking incidents had been moved to Friday. (NBC News reported that briefing had always been scheduled for Friday.) Then, in another tweet Wednesday morning, he promoted a claim from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that the secret-spilling group’s source wasn’t the Russian government, accepting that claim without evidence while doubting his own classified intelligence briefings to the contrary.

All of that, according to critics in the intelligence and cybersecurity world trying to keep up with Trump’s head fakes, shows an incoming president who doesn’t merely disagree with his own intelligence agencies and the cybersecurity community, but actually doesn’t want to learn the truth.

* Bill Conroy writes that in order to get to the bottom of Russian interference in the election, you need to follow the money.

Putin’s goals are not linked to the battle of ideologies that characterized the Cold War era of the past century — capitalism vs. communism. That battle ended and capitalism prevailed — which has led us to our present international condition. Russia is now a corrupt state wedded to predatory capitalism and run by an autocrat, Putin, who masquerades as an elected leader, and we have just elected a president who doesn’t seem to see through that charade, or may even be part of it.

Putin, a former Cold War Russian intelligence agent, is a ruthless and cunning kleptocrat — literally a leader who uses state power to pillage and plunder a nation’s resources. He runs Russia with an iron fist, silencing critics with impunity. So if he directed a cyberattack on the U.S. government, which White House officials contend is the case, then it was likely for a goal that would advance his power and wealth.

To that end, U.S. lobbying and foreign-agent registration filings involving Russia’s two largest banks — both state-owned lenders that are ultimately controlled by Putin — seem to shed some light on Putin’s bigger goals. An affiliate of Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, as well as an affiliate of the country’s second-largest lender, VTB Group, each hired U.S. lobbyists — Sberbank in the spring of 2016 and VTB in the spring of 2015, federal filings show.

The lobbying objective of Russian lender VTB, federal documents show, is to convince the U.S. Congress and Executive Branch to reconsider “the imposition of US sanctions on Russian-affiliated banks.” A federal disclosure form filed by the lobbying firm for the Sberbank affiliate states similarly that its goal is to help the bank find ways to achieve “sanctions relief.”

* A “holy crap” comment about life in the Trump era:

* Perhaps this had something to do with Republican attempts to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics:

Senate Democrats are calling on the House Office of Congressional Ethics to launch an investigation into Rep. Tom Price, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, to probe the congressman’s financial investments and stock holdings…

The announcement comes following a Wall Street Journal report that alleged Price traded more than $300,000 in shares of health-related companies during his time in Congress, all “while sponsoring and advocating legislation that potentially could affect those companies’ stocks.”

* While our president-elect is busy either shaming car companies or taking credit for their decisions, this happened as a result of President Obama’s commitment to the auto industry back in the beginning of his first term.

U.S. drivers bought more new cars and trucks in 2016 than they ever have, edging out the record set just one year earlier to give the auto industry an unprecedented seventh consecutive year of sales growth.

About 17.5 million light vehicles were sold throughout the country last year, manufacturers reported Wednesday, an increase of less than half a percent over the record set in 2015.

“The economic picture is good, the stock market is strong, wages are edging up, the job picture is good — a lot of factors worked in favor of good car sales,” said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at Autotrader.

* Finally, it’s hard to imagine how the Washington Post Express screwed up this badly. Here is what they tweeted as a promo for their latest cover:

Did you catch what’s wrong with that image? If not, apparently neither did any of the editors at the Washington Post Express…until it was pointed out to them that they replicated the symbol for “male” in a story about the Women’s March on Washington. Since then they issued an apology and a new cover image.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.