Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump points at supporters after speaking at rally at the Verizon Wireless Center in Manchester, N.H., on Feb. 8, 2016.
Photo by Justin Lane/EPA

Trump denounces ‘witch hunt,’ shortly before calling for one

A few years ago, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) heard congressional Democrats denounce the Republicans’ Benghazi committee as a “witch hunt.” The Texas Republican, unimpressed, argued in response, “Well, Mr. Speaker, that must mean there is a witch somewhere.”

Three years later, GOP confusion about the meaning of the phrase appears to be spreading.
Mr. Trump, who has consistently expressed doubts about the evidence of Russian hacking during the election, did so again on Friday. Asked why he thought there was so much attention being given to the Russian cyberattacks, the president-elect said the motivation was political.

“They got beaten very badly in the election. I won more counties in the election than Ronald Reagan,” Mr. Trump said during an eight-minute telephone conversation. “They are very embarrassed about it. To some extent, it’s a witch hunt. They just focus on this.”
That really doesn’t make sense. A serious crime was committed. It targeted an American presidential election. According to 17 U.S. intelligence agencies and a bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill, those responsible for the crime have been identified.

Coming to terms with the facts is not a “witch hunt.”

There is some irony to Trump’s whining, however, because the president-elect appears surprisingly eager to launch a witch hunt of his own.

On Thursday night, NBC News reported that a senior U.S. intelligence official confirmed an important detail about the Russia scandal: intelligence professionals “picked up senior Russian officials celebrating Donald Trump’s win.” The official added, “Highly classified intercepts illustrate Russian government planning and direction of a multifaceted campaign by Moscow to undermine the integrity of the American political system.”

Trump quickly complained about the report on Twitter. On Friday, he kept going, tweeting, “I am asking the chairs of the House and Senate committees to investigate top secret intelligence shared with NBC prior to me seeing it.” Over the weekend, he kept at it, complaining once more, “Before I, or anyone, saw the classified and/or highly confidential hacking intelligence report, it was leaked out to @NBCNews. So serious!”

Let’s put aside, for now, the fact that a president can’t request Intelligence Committee investigations. If Trump is concerned about a security breach, he can turn to the Justice Department, not Capitol Hill. It’s the sort of detail he probably should know, but he’s an amateur who’s not yet up to speed on procedural details.

Let’s instead focus on a straightforward series of events:

1. Russia apparently launched an espionage operation to subvert American democracy.
2. U.S. intelligence agencies conducted investigations into this attack.
3. Some news organizations reported some of the findings to the public the day before the official report was released.

For Donald J. Trump, point #1 is unimportant and unworthy of scrutiny, but point #3 is a “serious” development worthy of multiple investigations.

If there’s a defense for such twisted priorities, I can’t think of it.


Donald Trump and Russia

Trump denounces 'witch hunt,' shortly before calling for one