President-elect Donald Trump and members of his incoming administration have been working overtime to deny Russian interference in the U.S. election. Their disloyalty has reached such absurd proportions that senior advisor Kellyanne Conway elicited an incredulous chuckle from CNN's Chris Cuomo, when she refused to even say the word "Russia" during an interview. But this alarming lack of patriotism is anything but amusing.
President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign of lies and deflections to protect Russia from blame for the cyberattacks that the FBI and CIA say were intended to help Trump win the election has become more and more desperate by the day.
While Trump himself phoned the New York Times ahead of his security briefing on Russian interference, to again reiterate his doubts about Russian hacking and accuse Democrats of staging a “witch hunt” because of sour grapes, his senior advisor Kellyanne Conway headed to CNN for an interview with Chris Cuomo, where she, too, cast doubt on Russian interference.
In an epic 17-minute interview, Cuomo doggedly interrogated Conway over Trump’s refusal to acknowledge Russia’s role in the hacks.
The entire interview is a masterpiece of adversarial journalism, but there were two stand-out moments in particular. Toward the beginning of the interview, Cuomo called out Trump’s denial, his lies about the intelligence briefing he will receive sometime on Friday, and his “disparagement” of the intelligence community. Then, Cuomo made a devastating observation (emphasis mine):
CUOMO: Has he ever accepted that Russia was behind the hacks? He did nothing but mock the intel community.
CONWAY: Chris, he’s not mocking, you’re using words like ‘disparagement’, ‘mock the intel community…’
CUOMO: Clapper used the word ‘disparagement.’
CONWAY: That’s his opinion. You’re giving your opinion. That’s highly inappropriate. You just want to argue with me.
CUOMO: Not at all. I love you, Kellyanne. You know it. I’m trying to put the facts out there and you’re ducking the obvious. And I don’t know why.
CONWAY: Chris, by the way, not ducking a thing. Not my style. Here is the deal. The president-elect and all of us who work for him and the vice president-elect, I assure you, are against any foreign interference in the United States of America, including through cyber security, which obviously has not been a big priority for the last eight years. Maybe that will change. Number two, all the DNC had to do was turn over the information the FBI requested according to, doorbell, please, ring, ring, a CNN report I read. That’s all they had to do. They refused to do that. We know all this because of the DNC e-mails. And the fact is you want us to commit to a proposition because somehow to make everybody feel better about what? Complete the sentence.
CUOMO: That Russia was behind the hacks. You didn’t even say the word Russia in the last minute and a half. You said, ‘We’re against any form of opposition’ but you didn’t say ‘Russia.’ You talk about the DNC, you don’t talk about Russia. Why?
Conway then went on to deflect, for several minutes, about the Obama administration’s posture toward Russia over the last eight years, still without acknowledging Russia’s role in the cyberattacks.
Then, as if to illustrate Cuomo’s earlier point, Conway literally could not get the word “Russia” to come out of her mouth even hypothetically, which elicited a mirthless chuckle from the anchor:
CONWAY: The fifth time I’m going to tell you, we’re against any foreign government hacking or interfering with the United States intelligence, that’s for sure…
CUOMO: By whom?
CONWAY: …but we’re not politicizing intelligence.
CUOMO: By whom?
CONWAY: By anyone.
CUOMO: By whom?
CONWAY: By anyone!
CUOMO: Like who?
CONWAY: By anyone. By, by anyone, Chris.
CUOMO: But like who?
CONWAY: By anyone. By anyone.
CUOMO: Like Russia? How about Russia?
CUOMO: Because that’s who the intel agencies are dealing with right now. That’s who you’re apparently ignoring. That’s what I’m asking you about.
CONWAY: And here’s the problem. I’m not ignoring them at all.
CUOMO: You won’t even say it.
CONWAY: First of all, we have great respect for the intelligence communities, they will be here this afternoon to brief the president-elect, and he will have that briefing along with his vice president-elect and his intelligence and security advisers, and he will receive that information. But remember, the moment you mention Russian hacking and the election, in the same sentence, you know what the impression is for a lot of the viewers out there.
CUOMO: I do not think a political calculation should be fueling your recognition of a cyber threat of this magnitude.
In case you lost count, that was six times that Conway said “by anyone” instead of acknowledging what 17 intelligence agencies have said on the record, and in Senate testimony.
And despite Conway’s insistence that Trump’s incoming administration has “great respect for the intelligence communities,” it was Conway herself who revealed that Trump plans to replace intelligence officials with “his own people.”
This is not an administration that respects the intelligence community, but one that is seeking to discredit it. And it is further an administration whose loyalties are in question, as Trump and Conway behave more like Vladimir Putin’s defense attorneys than they do American leaders seriously concerned with the subversion of our democracy.
(Melissa McEwan contributed to this article.)