So “Comey Week” in Washington has taken a new turn with the disclosure by the Intercept of a National Security Agency report documenting a sophisticated Russian military intelligence operation before the 2016 election aimed at compromising state and local election infrastructure systems. The document has been subsequently verified as legitimate by CBS News.
There’s more smoke than fire in the report, which mainly establishes that the Russians were making an effort to gain access to voter-registration database information — though that’s a big deal given the impact of voter-registration information on access to the ballot. But it also opened up the possibility the hackers got access to vote-counting machinery as well, particularly in states with electronic voting machines (which happen to include Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, two of the three states that decided the presidential election).
More important, the report could change the scope of the various investigations by Congress, the FBI, and special prosecutor Bob Mueller of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 elections and possible Trump campaign collusion with that interference. Up until now, we’ve mostly been focused on Russian (or Trump’s/Russian) efforts to change the external political dynamics of the election, such as WikiLeaks’ slow-drip release of Podesta emails, and social-media promotion of pro-Trump and anti-Clinton memes. Now we’re talking about direct interference with the integrity of the election that made Trump president. And if that is even close to being established, then the possibility of Trump campaign collusion in such interference takes on a whole new dimension of horrific malfeasance, and potential “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
If nothing else, the leaked NSA report will amp up media interest in NSA director Mike Rogers’s appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, the day before former FBI director James Comey’s much-discussed testimony to the same committee. There has already been speculation that Rogers will drop a bombshell; the leaked report could be a preview, though it should be noted an NSA contractor — with the unlikely name of Reality Leigh Winner — has already been arrested for what could well be a leak to the Intercept.
Whether it turns out to be “Comey Week” or “Rogers Week” or something else entirely, the story of the 2016 election keeps getting more unfriendly to its presidential victor. It would be ironic if the 45th president turned out to be a stone loser in the slow unveiling of what actually happened.