Of all the reactions to President Trump’s statement on Monday casting doubt on Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election, perhaps the wisest came from his own director of national intelligence, Dan Coats. Maybe it was his temperate response that helped cause the president to later retract his statement and is now worthy of some analysis.
Especially worth noting is what Mr. Coats did not do.
He did not repeat any falsehood so as to give it validity or momentum. In the American intelligence community – despite past mistakes that have tarnished its trustworthiness – truth is still a cherished commodity, one that helps prevent making a reality of its opposite.
Nor did Coats, a former diplomat and senator, attach any lie to the president, perhaps counting on Mr. Trump’s ability and willingness to eventually base his policy toward Russia on the facts. Those closest to the president may know something the rest of us don’t.
And he did not raise public alarm about a US president appearing to side with a denial of Russian meddling by President Vladimir Putin. Perhaps the intelligence chief knows that the declaration of truth is the best antidote to fear and ignorance.
What Coats did do after Monday’s press conference by the two presidents was to kindly assert what he knew, relying on the light of honesty and transparency:
“The role of the Intelligence Community is to provide the best information and fact-based assessments possible for the President and policymakers. We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”
The president has lately been given similar assessments from others in Washington.
Last week, another of his professional appointees, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, announced that 12 Russian security agents had been indicted on federal charges of hacking into computers in the United States and stealing information for some unspecified interest of Russia’s. The truth of the charges may never be tested in a courtroom as it is unlikely Mr. Putin will hand over the agents for trial. But the charges come after an indictment in February of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for an illegal “information warfare” plot to disrupt the 2016 election. And in early July, a bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee backed the intelligence community’s assessment of Russian political interference. Also, the president’s national security adviser, John Bolton, has referred to Russian cyberattacks as “acts of war.”
At the least, the president has been encircled by strong contours of information about Russia’s role in the election. The indictments and other evidence have forced him to question his suppositions and claims – and even to now assert the need to prevent foreign meddling in American democracy.
For any person or country in the dark, truth can be liberating if presented in gentle and persuasive ways by those seeking to show the power of truth. Falsehoods lose their punch when they are revealed to have no punch at all.