The Trump/Russia story has nearly become a huge game of whack-a-mole. As a scenario becomes damaged anonymous officials crop up with a new theory based upon secret information that would surely result in our summary execution if we were ever able to see the documents.
Back in early December, the FBI, CIA, and the other agencies of the US intelligence community changed their assessment of Russian intentions when they meddled in the 2016 presidential election. In October the assessment was that their activities were designed to sow discord and confusion. The December assessment was much different:
The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.
Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.
“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”
Now Reuters is out with a breathless exclusive that claims a Russian think tank had plans for intervening in the election. The think tank is the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies. It has clout. It is tied tightly to the FSB/SVR and to the Kremlin.
A Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system, three current and four former U.S. officials told Reuters.
The “former U.S. officials” is code for Obama appointees. The first question one has to ask is a) why did they wait until now to reveal this information and b) if it is new information, how did “former” officials get access to it?
The first Russian institute document was a strategy paper written last June that circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government but was not addressed to any specific individuals.
It recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia than the administration of then-President Barack Obama, the seven officials said.
A second institute document, drafted in October and distributed in the same way, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election. For that reason, it argued, it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency, the seven officials said.
According to this, the pro-Trump propaganda plan was formulated in late June, at the earliest, and it was terminated in October when the Russians, much like the rest of us, became convinced that Hillary was going to boat race Trump on election day. In October, the think tank argued that it was time to undermine Hillary Clinton. We don’t know if that recommendation was accepted or not but if it was the Russians had less than a month (election day was November 8) to make the decision, make a plan, and implement the plan.
Four of the officials said the approach outlined in the June strategy paper was a broadening of an effort the Putin administration launched in March 2016. That month the Kremlin instructed state-backed media outlets, including international platforms Russia Today and Sputnik news agency, to start producing positive reports on Trump’s quest for the U.S. presidency, the officials said.
While RT claims millions of views, Nielsen ratings indicate that it has about 30,000 viewers in the US. And it is hard to imagine that they are in Trump country. I followed the campaign pretty closely and I didn’t see or hear anything that didn’t come from Ron Paul advocating taking a softer line on Russia. In the end, being nice to Russia was never an issue. In fact, the story about Trump’s people softening the GOP stance on Ukraine at the convention turned out to be totally false.
I’m a skeptic on this. The Russians may very well have tried to do this, but they failed miserably. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Period. Donald Trump became president based on the votes of about 100,000 people in three states that gave him a majority in the Electoral College. That, alone, should suffice to prove that whatever the Russians did wasn’t particularly well planned or well executed. But it is what it is.
The intelligence community assessment and these “secret” papers describe two different operations. At least one of them obviously did not happen.