No sooner did Special Counsel Robert Mueller testify that the Russians continue to interfere in U.S. politics, than the Senate Intelligence Committee released a sobering report about Russian interference in the 2016 election. Before the public could digest this, the news was swept off the front pages by Donald Trump's racist tweets. Nonetheless, the truth is hiding in plain sight: Russians are interfering in U.S. politics and Trump doesn't want to do anything about it.
Robert Mueller's July 24th appearance before the House Intelligence Committee was highlighted by his strong statements about Russia: "The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion." He indicated the Russian interference continues, "They're doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign."
After 30 months of investigation, we know the Russian interference took five forms:
1. Exploiting weaknesses in the election infrastructure: On July 26th, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the first volume of its report. "Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election...Russian Efforts Against Election Interference." The Committee observed, "The Russian government directed extensive activity... against U.S. election infrastructure at the state and local level." The report found the Russians targeted election systems in all 50 states -- a shocking finding as previous indictions were the Russian infiltration was more limited.
The Senate report is so heavily redacted that it's difficult to determine how successful the Russian efforts were. However, we already know the GOP has been messing with voter registration data bases and it would be difficult to distinguish Russian activity from ongoing Republican efforts -- for example, we know that, in 2016, the State of Georgia eliminated more than 300,000 eligible voters from their data base, based upon dubious criteria.
2. Hacking emails: The Mueller Report noted, "A Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and then released stolen documents." "The Russian intelligence service known as the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Army (GRU) carried out these operations... the GRU began disseminating stolen materials through the fictitious online personas 'DCLeaks' and 'Guccifer 2.0.' The GRU later released additional materials through the organization WikiLeaks."
During Robert Mueller's July 24th testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, chair Adam Schiff asked Mueller, "The Trump campaign officials built... their messaging strategy, around those stolen [Wikileaks] documents?" Mueller responded, "Generally, that's true." "And then they lied to cover it up?" Mueller answered, "Generally, that's true."
Although the Trump campaign utilized the Wikileaks documents, the Mueller Report found no evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian hackers.
3. Subverting Social Media. The Mueller Report noted: "A Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J.Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton." "The Internet Research Agency (IRA) carried out... a social media campaign designed to provoke and amplify political and social discord in the United States. The IRA was based in St. Petersburg, Russia, and received funding from Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin and companies he controlled. Priozhin is widely reported to have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin." "The [IRA] campaign evolved from a generalized program designed in 2014 and 2015 to undermine the U.S. electoral system, to a targeted operation that by early 2016 favored candidate Trump and disparaged candidate Clinton."
Again, while the Trump campaign benefited from the Russian social media campaign, the Mueller Report found no evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian disinformation effort.
4. Influencing persuadable voters via Facebook. Hillary Clinton lost the presidency because she lost the electoral college; specifically, she lost Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by a combined total of 79,646 votes. That's where the influence of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook and Russia mattered. (Cambridge Analytica was a technical political consulting firm founded by Trump mega-donor Robert Mercer and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.)
In 2016 the Trump campaign, with the help of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, developed a singular swing-state voter data base that drove electronic interaction using social media, such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter. For example, they used the Facebook data to develop a voter profile and then sent voters messages based upon this profile. (This worked both to motivate voters to vote for Trump and to dissuade potential Clinton voters from voting for her.)
Writing in The New Yorker, Sue Halpern (https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/cambridge-analytica-facebook-and-the-revelations-of-open-secrets) observed: "Cambridge Analytica contractors worked with Trump's digital team, headed by Brad Parscale and Jared Kushner. Alongside all of them were Facebook employees who were embedded with the Trump campaign to help them use Facebook's various tools most effectivelyincluding the so-called "dark posts," used to dissuade African-Americans from showing up to vote." (Recently Facebook was fined $5 billion for related activity.)
There's evidence the Russians were involved. Writing in Slate (https://slate.com/technology/2018/03/did-cambridge-analytica-leverage-russian-disinformation-for-trump.html), Justin Hendrix reported "Cambridge Analytica also enlisted Russian-American academic Aleksandr Kogan to mine the private Facebook user data that is the subject of the ongoing scandal. While an associate professor at St. Petersburg State University in Russia, Kogan received grants from the Russian government to research 'stress, health and psychological wellbeing in social networks.'" [Note that the Internet Research Agency is headquartered in St. Petersburg.]
5. Compromising Trump campaign officials. According to Robert Mueller, his team did not investigate the Russian tactic of collecting digital information in order to compromise U.S. actors. During the Mueller hearing, Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi asked, "Since it was outside your purview, your report did not reach counterintelligence conclusions regarding any Trump administration officials who might potentially be vulnerable to compromise or blackmail by Russia, correct?" Krishnamoorthi continued, "Individuals can be subject to blackmail if they lie about their interactions with foreign countries, correct?" "True," Mueller replied. [Former national security adviser Michael Flynn did plead guilty to lying to Mueller's team.] Krishnamoorthi asked Mueller, "Your report did not address how Flynn's false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?" Mueller responded, "I cannot get into that... because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue."
We know that Russia has compromising information about several Trump campaign members.
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