The scandal connecting Donald Trump to Russia in an attempt to rig the 2016 United States presidential election saw a dramatic new development Wednesday, when the news agency Reuters published exclusive details of the Russian "think tank" that planned the Moscow operation to place Trump in the White House.
Seven different U.S. officials — three currently serving and four no longer in government — told Reuters that documents in the possession of U.S. intelligence agencies show how the Moscow-based think tank known as the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies "developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters' faith in the American electoral system," Reuters reported.
Read the entire, exclusive Reuters report on the Russian plot to influence the election on Trump's behalf at this link.
The RISS is operated by former Russian intelligence officers appointed by Putin who, though he has denied interfering the 2016 election or trying to sway it for Trump, actually "had the objective in mind all along, and he asked the institute to draw him a road map," a former U.S. intelligence official told Reuters.
There are two RISS documents now in the hands of U.S. intelligence agencies that appear to provide a dual-barreled "smoking gun" to link Russia directly to efforts to influence voters and to undermine Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who was hated intensely by Putin due largely to Clinton's unwavering support of NATO and her support of arming Ukraine to defend against Russia's attempts to destabilize that country.
The first document is a "strategy paper" which was "circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government," according to Reuters, and which spelled out plans for a propaganda campaign supporting Trump and using such Russian government media operations as the cable network RT and the online news agency Sputnik to push stories favorable to Trump and damaging to Clinton.
As a result, the news outlets ran stories repeatedly claiming that Trump was being treated unfairly by U.S. media, and accusing Clinton of wrongdoing. One online propaganda video produced by RT, which claimed that "100 percent of the Clintons' 2015 'charity' went to themselves," was viewed more than 9 million times.
That document was created by the Russian intelligence think tank in June of 2016. But in October, Putin and the Russian intelligence services became convinced that their efforts had come up short, and that Clinton would win the election regardless.
The second document, produced in October of last year, advocated a change in course for the Russian propaganda campaign. Instead of simply favoring Trump, Russia now allegedly planned a propaganda campaign to persuade American voters that the election was "rigged" in Clinton's favor — a theme frequently stated in campaign speeches and on his Twitter account by Trump.
Whether Trump came up with the idea of the "rigged election" independently or whether he was inspired by or echoing the Russian propaganda campaign remains uncertain.
The two RISS documents do not address the cyber hacking campaign aimed at Clinton and the Democratic Party believed to have been carried out by Russian intelligence agents during the 2016 campaign. The hacking operation was run separately from the RISS propaganda plan, Reuters reported.
On Monday, British journalist Louise Mensch reported that intelligence sources told her that Trump directly cooperated with the Russian efforts to tamper with the election, sending advisor Carter Page to Moscow with an actual audio recording of Trump offering to soften U.S. policy toward Russia in exchange for Russia's covert help in rigging the election.
In what may be a danger sign for Republicans in the 2018 midterm congressional elections, a new poll by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research which targeted "swing" voters in Republican-heavy districts found that more than 70 percent of those voters want to see an independent commission investigate the ties between Trump and Russia.
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