What Trump Doesn’t Want You to Know About Russia’s Election Interference

Vladimir Putin is once again trying to help the president get elected.

Last Friday, William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, released a statement that “Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment.'” It also noted that both China and Iran prefer that Trump be defeated in the November election.

The timing of that wasn’t lost on New York Times reporter Robert Draper who was about to publish an article titled, “Unwanted Truths: Inside Trump’s Battle With U.S. Intelligence Agencies.”

Just as this article was going to press — and shortly after I submitted a list of questions to the O.D.N.I. relating to its struggle to avoid becoming politically compromised — Evanina put out a new statement. In it, the O.D.N.I. at last acknowledged publicly that Russia “is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment.’” In the same statement, however, Evanina also asserted for the first time that both China and Iran were hoping to defeat Trump. As with the preceding statement, the O.D.N.I. made no distinction between Russia’s sophisticated election-disrupting capabilities and the less insidious influence campaigns of the two supposedly anti-Trump countries. Like its predecessor, the statement seemed to be tortured with political calculation — an implicit declaration of anguish rather than of independence.

The predecessor Draper referred to was at the heart of his reporting. According to his sources, the National Security Estimate was a document that caused controversy between Trump and the intelligence community in the summer and fall of 2017 and eventually led to the firing of DNI Dan Coates. Initially, it contained a finding that “in the 2020 election, Russia favored the current president: Donald Trump.” By the time Trump and his loyalists were through with the NSE, it read: “Russian leaders probably assess that chances to improve relations with the U.S. will diminish under a different U.S. president.”

All of that is designed to once again hide what Trump has consistently denied: that Russian interference in the 2016 election was aimed at helping him. While the president has vacillated on whether or not it was Russia who interfered in the election, the facts about Putin’s motives for doing so are verboten among his loyalists.

Just to be clear, it wasn’t just Mueller who documented that Putin intervened to help Trump. A bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee came to the same conclusion.

Where the Intelligence Community assessed that 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 Committee found that IRA social media activity was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump, and to the detriment of Secretary Clinton’s campaign.

This controversy is important to keep in mind as Attorney General Barr prepares to release Durham’s findings on the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation. From the beginning, Barr has been unwilling to admit that Russia’s interference was focused on helping Trump—because that is what launched the entire Trump-Russia probe. Here is what the Washington Post reported back in 2017 (emphasis mine):

Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.

But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

Our intelligence services would have been derelict in their duty if they had not investigated whether an adversarial power was interfering in an election to support one candidate in particular. So while the FBI eventually began its CrossFire Hurricane investigation into whether or not the Trump campaign was engaged in a conspiracy with the Russian government, intelligence services went on to further investigate the activities and intentions of a foreign power’s attempt to interfere in our elections. In January 2017, they released their report, which included the following:

We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.

After Barr appointed Durham to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe, this is what was reported by the New York Times.

Mr. Barr wants to know more about the C.I.A. sources who helped inform its understanding of the details of the Russian interference campaign, an official has said. He also wants to better understand the intelligence that flowed from the C.I.A. to the F.B.I. in the summer of 2016.

During the final weeks of the Obama administration, the intelligence community released a declassified assessment that concluded that Mr. Putin ordered an influence campaign that “aspired to help” Mr. Trump’s electoral chances by damaging Mrs. Clinton’s. The C.I.A. and the F.B.I. reported they had high confidence in the conclusion. The National Security Agency, which conducts electronic surveillance, had a moderate degree of confidence…

Conservative critics of the intelligence assessment and the Mueller report have questioned the conclusion that Mr. Putin actively favored Mr. Trump, as opposed to simply wanting to sow chaos and weaken Mrs. Clinton.

From the beginning, Trump’s enablers have been attempting to make this ridiculous distinction between Russian attempts to weaken Clinton and the necessary corollary that they were supporting Trump. That’s why it’s important to note that Evanina was able to report that “Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden,” but not that these efforts are designed to help Trump.

What our intelligence sources aren’t telling us is at the heart of Senator Richard Blumenthal’s concerns.

The warning lights are flashing red. America’s elections are under attack.

This week, I reviewed classified materials in the Senate’s Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility and received a similarly classified briefing on malign foreign threats to U.S. elections. I was shocked by what I learned — and appalled that, by swearing Congress to secrecy, the Trump administration is keeping the truth about a grave, looming threat to democracy hidden from the American people. On Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement that only hints at the threats.

The facts are chilling. I believe the American public needs and deserves to know them. The information should be declassified immediately.

It is clear that, once again, Vladimir Putin is interfering in our elections to support Donald Trump. The president doesn’t want us to know that and has done nothing to stop him—much like he’s ignoring the fact that Putin put bounties on the heads of American soldiers in Afghanistan.

The evidence of how far we’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of Trump’s criminal presidency is that most of the media doesn’t seem to care that this is happening. Perhaps that is because this president is regularly committing impeachable offenses that would have led to the removal of any prior occupant of the Oval Office many times over. We can now add one more to the list: Trump’s refusal to stop Russian interference in our election—which is specifically aimed at helping him get re-elected.

Support the Washington Monthly and get a FREE subscription

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.