Amid the battle President Donald Trump has going on with the National Football League over protests during the singing of the national anthem, a new claim has emerged about Russia’s involvement in the presidential election: that it didn’t help him at all.
The claim was made loud and boisterously by the president himself.
“And by the way, folks, just in case you’re, like, curious? No, Russia did not help me, OK?” Trump said at a political rally Friday evening in Huntsville, Alabama. “Russia. I call it the Russian hoax.”
In making that statement, Trump is directly disputing a conclusion reached by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia did precisely that. Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller, as well as the intelligence committees in the House and Senate, are examining the extent of Russian assistance to Trump, and are further attempting to figure out whether the campaign was working in collusion with that assistance.
Nevertheless, the president’s latest attempt to downplay Russia’s role in the election goes well beyond his previous assertions. Over time, those have included the idea that it could not be known who had interfered in the election. He had made various claims in the past, none of which were taken seriously. At one point, he blamed a 400-pound person in his bed, later some random person in New Jersey, or possibly an unknown country other than Russia. Whoever it was, though, Trump insisted the alleged meddling did not decide the outcome of the election. Friday appeared to be the first time that the president flat-out claimed that Russia did not help him win.
U.S. intelligence agencies, though, plainly stated in a report this past January that not only did Russian leader Vladimir Putin interfere in the election, but that he also had a desired outcome.
A report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and incorporating an analysis produced by the CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agency said just that.
“Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments. We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”
The report also stated that Russian intelligence agencies stole thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign, and their subsequent release by the WikiLeaks group occurred in the final weeks of the presidential race. These actions would have undoubtedly hampered Hillary’s campaign.
The intelligence community’s report also suggested that Russia used so-called social media “trolls” to recirculate and enhance negative news coverage of Clinton as much as possible. Social media giant Facebook disclosed on September 6 that Russia-linked accounts purchased political ads starting as early as 2015. Facebook said it had identified $150,000 of political ads purchased by fake accounts linked to Russia. It attributed about $100,000 of the total, or 3,000 ads, to 470 accounts related to a Russian propaganda group called Internet Research Agency. It found another 2,000 ads worth $50,000 by searching for ads purchased through U.S. internet addresses whose accounts were set to the Russian language. The ads touched on hot-button social issues such as immigration and LGBT rights and, according to a report from the Washington Post, included content aimed at stoking racial resentment against blacks and Muslims.
Company founder Mark Zuckerburg announced one week ago that he would turn over those ads to congressional investigators after initially saying he would not.
President Trump responded to all of this on social media.
Virginia Democrat Mark Warner, the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, gave his opinion on the Russian matter.
“Their aim was to sow chaos. In many cases, it was more about voter suppression rather than increasing turnout.”
The House and Senate intelligence committees intend to look closely at the Facebook ads in coming weeks as they attempt to untangle the operation and other matters related to Russia’s bid to help elect Donald Trump president in 2016.
Warner and others are troubled by Trump’s continued refusal to acknowledge the threat of foreign interference in U.S. elections. It is a belief held by many that the government is not working hard enough to ensure election systems are not interfered with in the future.
Trump won the election thanks, in large part, to narrow victories in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, by a cumulative vote margin of 78,000. Using data from the Trump campaign, investigators are currently examining whether the Russians had help targeting key voting groups in those states.
[Featured Image by Evan Vucci/AP Images]