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Putin in the White House?

Ines Pohl
Ines Pohl
December 12, 2016

Donald Trump refuses to accept that Russian cyberattacks influenced the US election. Concern is growing in America that Vladimir Putin’s influence will in future be more direct. Ines Pohl reports from Washington.

Litauen Graffiti von Putin und Trump
Image: Getty Images/AFP/P. Malukas

The latest joke in Washington goes something along the lines of: "So who actually won the election? Trump or Clinton? - Putin, you idiot!” It's one of those gags where the laugh sticks in your throat. Because ever since the first reports appeared in the Washington Post at the weekend, more and more government insiders are saying that Russia didn't just hack into the Democratic Party's servers - that's been alleged for months - but that the Republican servers were accessed, too. As a result, the US intelligence community now claims that Russia didn't just want to damage Clinton and American democracy, but that the attacks were so it could to intervene directly to help Trump to victory.

Waging war online

For many years now experts have been warning that the wars of the future will be won not on land, at sea or in the air, but online. So far, thrillers have generally focused on scenarios in which hackers bring down nuclear power stations. This week, though, it's becoming clear that it's about far more than influencing energy supply or flouting data protection guidelines.

Pohl Ines Kommentarbild App
Ines Pohl is DW's correspondent in Washington

If the accusations should prove true, these attacks are directed at the core of every democracy: free elections by secret ballot. The uproar in the United States is correspondingly great. And the reactions of the future president, Donald Trump, are correspondingly disturbing.

Instead of immediately calling for an independent investigative committee, he has been trying to brush off the accusations with flippant tweets. His argument: "Why believe the secret services if they were wrong when they claimed Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons?”

Trump's business dealings with Russia

This public attack on the intelligence community is especially serious as the president-elect is consistently refusing to participate in daily intelligence briefings. His reasoning: He knows best what's going on and doesn't need to be given the same information every day.

This attitude is either naive or a calculating display of business acumen. Either way, it's dangerous. It may well be true that Trump the businessman has been doing business with Russia for years, and that that's why he doesn't want anyone looking at his books. It also seems plausible that Trump may make the chairman of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson, his top diplomat, because he has close ties to President Vladimir Putin's Russia as a result of gas deals. All that is unworthy of the most important political office in the world - and extremely dangerous, above all.

Republican responsibility

If it transpires that the hacks did indeed constitute political interference, the United States of America has been attacked. As the future president does not seem capable of grasping this possibility, the Republican representatives must now show that they take their democratic mandate seriously. They must ask themselves to whom should they be loyal - Donald Trump, or the defense of the American electoral system, and with it American democracy. Trump may believe he's capable of keeping the Russian secret services under control. He is, however, pretty much alone in thinking so.

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