Russian Interference In 2016 Election Cycle More Extensive Than Most People Realize
The focus thus far on Russian interference has (justifiably) been on the 2016 presidential election. It has been established that the Russians did intervene with the intention to help Trump and there were approximately 82 contacts between the Trump team and representatives of the Putin regime. In an election decided by a little over 70,000 votes in three states, Russian assistance may very well have contributed to Trump’s surprise “victory” in the electoral college.
Russian meddling also occurred in a very close race here in Nebraska. In CD02, Brad Ashford lost to Don Bacon by less than1% and was the only Democratic incumbent who lost in 2016. As it turned out, the Russians broke into the computer data base of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and stole emails between the Ashford campaign and the DCCC.
Ashford stated that the stolen emails included important information regarding strategy and fundraising. “They want to disrupt the normal course of elections and the daily activities of the government,” the former Congressman said. “If they’re going to hack Brad Ashford’s emails, Brad Ashford for Congress, that’s digging fairly deeply into our election process.”
Ashford’s concerns were valid — the Russians were heavily involved in the U.S. elections on behalf of the GOP in the 2016 cycle. The emails stolen from the DCCC were used by the GOP in other close House races. (It’s revealing how the Russians were able to target House races with such surgical precision.)
Hacked emails were used by Paul Ryan’s Super PAC — the Congressional Leadership Fund — to attack Democrats. The Russians also turned over stolen emails to GOP friendly reporters and bloggers to undermine Democratic House candidates.
The most shocking revelation of all was that a GOP House candidate in Florida actually requested stolen emails from the Russians and the GOP candidate used the purloined emails to attack his Democratic opponent.
Equally shocking was the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) possible receipt of illegal Russian funds to prop up Trump and the GOP ticket. Under the dysfunctional campaign finance system established by the five “conservative” members of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010, the NRA has unlimited access to dark money. During the 2016 cycle, the NRA spent what for them was a record $55 million, including approximately $30 million to promote the Trump campaign.
Wealthy Russians with close connections to Putin have had close ties with the NRA for many years. Earlier this year, it was revealed that the FBI has opened up an investigation as to whether Alexander Torshin — a Russian oligarch who is a Putin ally — illegally funneled money to the NRA to help Trump. In 2016, Torshin attended the NRA convention with Trump. Collusion or just another coincidence?
Torshin may not have been the only Putin oligarch who contributed generously to the GOP. Len Blavatnik, a dual U.K.-U.S. citizen — contributed $7 million to various GOP Super PACs — including one run by Mitch McConnell. Blavatnik’s business partner is one of the richest men in Russia — and who is also very close to Putin.
These contributions from Blavatnik were perfectly legal due to the decision in Citizens United. Back in 2010, President Obama was excoriated by the Republicans for (correctly) predicting that this misguided decision would lead to foreign money pouring into U.S. elections.
Even to this day, the Russians continue to try to influence the political process in the U.S. One of the most recent fads on the far right is the so-called “Walk Away” movement. Right wing Republicans — including ones on my facebook page — are alleging that Democrats are walking away from the party. Of course that completely ignores the Democrats’ widening edge in the polls and race shifts towards the Democrats around the country.
It turns out the “Walk Away” movement is an astro turf based campaign that is being pushed out by Kremlin connected Russian bots. It is currently the seventh most popular Russian generated hashtag on social media.
This phony “Walk Away” hashtag is probably just the tip of the iceberg. Trump and the GOP’s weakness on Russia will only encourage the Russians to meddle in our elections in 2018. Trump and the Republicans in Congress have done nothing to protect the American electoral system from Russian hacking since 2016. Trump even still denies that the Russians were behind the 2016 electoral manipulation.
We have a big job ahead of ourselves this fall. We are not only running against the GOP but against the Russians. The stakes couldn’t be any higher this fall. The continued independence of the U.S. will be on the ballot this fall. Will we be a Russian vassal state or will we maintain our freedom? Now let’s go out there and win this! As Harry Truman said in 1948: “I will win this election and make the Republicans like it!”