When Trump finally released a statement Thursday evening on President Barack Obama’s newly announced sanctions, the president-elect’s remarks were every bit as reluctant and perfunctory as you’d expect. “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things,” he said. “Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.”
Substantively, this is a galling response from the next president of the United States, who should of course take seriously the mountain of evidence from the American government, the private sector and the press pointing to Russian hacking. And yet, it’s also unsurprising. Trump’s response to Russian hacking has been remarkably consistent: Regardless of the evidence, Trump has argued that it doesn’t really matter who hacked John Podesta and the DNC. That may be because of his alleged coziness (or aspiring coziness) with Russian President Vladimir Putin or because Trump is sensitive about what the hacks and his popular vote loss have done to his presidential legitimacy. In any case, the “move on” line is a recycling of what he told reporters yesterday.
Trump’s Thursday statement differed substantially from those of congressional Republicans who begrudgingly backed the Obama administration’s action. “Sanctions against the Russian intelligence services are a good initial step, however late in coming,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who stressed that “The Russians are not our friends.” House Speaker Paul Ryan similarly said Obama’s move was “overdue” but “an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia.” McConnell, it’s worth adding, had previously blocked the release of information about the hacking out of fear that it would influence the presidential election.
These Republicans—and others in the Senate like John McCain and Lindsey Graham—are clearly committed to investigating the hacking issue. How Trump handles this friction with his own party is a huge challenge and an open question. Things could get interesting fast.