This afternoon on Fox News, in an interview with Eric Shawn, John Bolton, the expected incoming Deputy Secretary of State suggested that reports of Russia hacking intervention in the 2016 election may actually be a false flag operation. On first read it certainly appears that he is saying such an operation may have been hatched by the current administration. He does not quite say that in so many words. And I have spoken to others that suggest Bolton is speaking of another country mounting such an operation. I’m printing the transcript of the exchange in full for people to make their own judgment.
BOLTON: It’s not at all clear to me just viewing this from the outside that this hacking into the DNC and the RNC computers was not a false flag operation. Let’s remember what FBI director James Comey said dealing with Hillary’s home brew server. He said we found no direct evidence of foreign intelligence service penetration, but given the nature of this, we didn’t expect to. Meaning, a really sophisticated foreign intelligence service would not leave any cyber fingerprints. And yet people say they did leave cyber fingerprints in the hacks regarding our election. So the question that has to be asked is why did the Russians run their smart intelligence service against Hillary’s server but their dumb intelligence services against the election —
SHAWN: When you say false flag, that’s a very serious charge. False flag by whom? Here is “The Washington post.” The Post reported the CIA has concluded individuals with close ties to the Russian government hacked the e-mails. Intelligence officials have determined that Russia’s goal was to help trump win rather than simply undermine confidence in the election. Are you actually accusing someone here in this administration of trying — in the intelligence community of trying to throw something?
BOLTON: We just don’t know, but I believe that intelligence has been politicized in the Obama administration to a very significant degree.
SHAWN: Would the intelligence officials politicize this to go so far that could damage our republic and what we have for 200-plus years stood for.
BOLTON: I think the whole thing is called into question and an independent investigation becomes extremely important. I think it’s critical to answer the question I posed. If you think the Russians did this, then why did they leave fingerprints?
SHAWN: Maybe because we have such sophisticated and —
BOLTON: James Comey and the FBI couldn’t find any fingerprints —
SHAWN: They use a different standard. It’s been shown they have a criminal start by the CIA has more of an intellectual —
BOLTON: Let’s hear the debate.
SHAWN: What do you want to hear? Something from the CIA director?
BOLTON: I’d like to know. I think we have something now. We don’t want to compromise intelligence sources and methods but when you make that kind of allegation, if it were true, and the Russians have the capability and the intention of doing it, I’m not by any means trying to exonerate them, but if you say they’ve done that, let me be clear, either in the cyber world or elsewhere, we should retaliate. It is unacceptable for the American constitution to be assaulted by foreigners in that way. So it is absolutely critical as well that we get the facts right on this, and I don’t think we have anywhere enough in the public domain to know what the facts are.
SHAWN: The president has ordered a review. Senator McCain and others of the Armed Services Committee are having hearings on this with the new congress. Let me read you a statement from both Senators McCain, SenatorsGraham, Schumer, and Jack Reed of Rhode Island, both bipartisan. For years foreign adversaries have directed cyber attacks at America’s physical, economic, and military infrastructure while stealing our intellectual property. Now our institutions have been targeted. Recent reports of Russian interference in our election should alarm every American. This cannot become a partisan issue. The stakes are too high for our country. McCain this morning called Putin a thug, a killer, and a murderer. The president has ordered a public review. What are you calling on the president to do before January 20th? To reveal the classified information? To bring it all out so Americans can know if Russia had a hand in this election?
BOLTON: One thing that makes me very nervous is Barack Obama saying let’s have this report before the 20th of January so I can wrap it up. I think the burden for well or ill is going to fall on Mike Pompeo who has been named as president-elect trump’s cia director. I think he’s trusted by republicans and democrats. He doesn’t bring any baggage. He’s a new official at the CIA. I’d look to him to head up an investigation across the entire intelligence committee. I just think these are such serious charges, again, if the Russians or any other foreign government think that they can undermine the integrity of our elections or defeat our constitutional process, this is just as serious an attack as a military attack.
SHAWN: For those who are bothered by your claim of a potential false flag, that’s very disturbing as an American.
BOLTON: We would want to know who else might want to influence the election and why they would leave fingerprints that point to the Russians. That’s why I say until we know more about how the insurance — intelligence community came to this conclusion —
There are lots of different potential motives in play here for Bolton, not least of which is to exonerate Donald Trump or at least to remove whatever cloud the Russia allegations have created over his presidency. But we should remember that Bolton and the people he’s been associated with for decades have a longstanding and deep antagonism with the CIA. This goes back to the 70s era claims that the CIA had underestimated Soviet military capabilities to the Bush era where they claimed the CIA was underestimating the danger posed by Saddam Hussein. This goes way, way back.
[I’ve revised this post to reflect greater ambiguity in Bolton’s comments.]