You can kick behinds when intimidating a company like Carrier to make it keep jobs in America, especially when the State of Indiana sweetens the deal with millions in subsidies. You can also go after Boeing for shaking down the government on the next generation of Air Force One. But bite your lips and hold your fire when it comes to the Central Intelligence Agency.
Recall the bare facts. In its most recent report, the CIA disclosed that Russians had hacked into the Democratic National Committee in an effort to sway the election in favor of Donald Trump. Having previously pooh-poohed claims of interference, the president-elect has now trained his Twitter guns directly on the Agency.
First, he dismissed Russian involvement by claiming that it was “hard to determine who was doing the hacking.” So strike one for The Company: Spy-wise, you guys are losers; you don’t know what you are talking about. Second, he accused the nation’s spooks of domestic intrigue and manipulation: “Can you imagine if the election results were the opposite and WE tried to play the Russia/CIA card. It would be called conspiracy theory.”
This author cannot recall a similar instance of a president, let alone president-elect publicly besmirching the professional honor of the Agency (though there has been plenty of back-biting behind closed doors). The reaction came fast and furious. Two Republican grandees—Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham—demonstratively linked up with Democrats to call for a bipartisan inquiry into the matter of Russian electoral shenanigans. Yet McCain has lots of accounts to square with Trump, so this foray might have been dismissed as score settling.
But then the Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell weighed in with the same demand: Congress must unearth what Vladimir Putin’s helping hands may have done to discredit Hillary Clinton. Using classic intelligence-speak to side with the CIA, McConnell orated: “I have the highest confidence in the intelligence community and especially the Central Intelligence Agency.”
Again, it is difficult to recall a precedent where the Congressional leadership of the future president’s own party throws down the gauntlet before Inauguration Day. Whether Mr. Trump back-pedals or not, he has been served notice: Don’t count on party loyalty when you engage in government-by-Twitter, especially when besmirching the nation’s key institutions. Nor do we like your pro-Russian stance that you have pitched long before the campaign, reads the second, unspoken part of the message. The GOP leadership will not follow you down that garden path, for Russia has been and remains America’s existential adversary.
Messrs. McCain and McConnell might have added a third warning for Mr. Trump: Don’t mess with the Agency in public, not just for the nation’s, but also for your own sake. If the CIA knows what the Russians are doing, it will surely have a file on you. If you don’t recant, the Agency will take revenge in ways that discredit you, Mr. President-elect.
And who will cheer? Russia and China, America’s most fearsome rivals.