Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Making the Case: Without Russia, Trump Wouldn’t Have Won

A piece in the Washington Post makes an argument that might drive the malignant narcissist in the White House to have an aneurysm or heart attack were it to come to his attention (I won't speculate if that would be a good thing or a bad thing - readers can draw their own conclusions).  The thrust of the column?  The bottom line is that but for the actions of Russian hackers and Russian derived fake news, Donald Trump would not be in the White House. For an individual who can never admit his own failings and whose ego is insatiable, the premise of the article goes to his apparent core as an egomaniac and insufferable liar and braggart.  Yet, if you read the full piece it is hard to refute - notwithstanding GOP talking points, lies and attacks on "sour grapes" Democrats - that it is probably correct in its conclusion.  But for Putin/Russia, Clinton would now be in the White House and the ongoing national nightmare would not be happening.  Here are column highlights:

President Trump is willing, under duress, to briefly and begrudgingly admit that Russian “meddling” took place in 2016 before reverting to calling it a “big hoax.” But he always maintains that the plot against America had no impact; he describes it as a “Democrat excuse for losing the ’16 Election.” Faithfully echoing the president, other Republicans, such as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), say it’s “clear” that the Russian interference “didn’t have a material effect on our elections.” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders even claims that the U.S. intelligence community reached that conclusion.
Not quite. Here is the intelligence community’s assessment, partially declassified in January 2017: “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion.” When then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo claimed last fall that “the intelligence community's assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election,” his own agency rebuked him.
[O]utside experts who have examined the Kremlin campaign — which included stealing and sharing Democratic Party emails, spreading propaganda online and hacking state voter rolls — have concluded that it did affect an extremely close election decided by fewer than 80,000 votes in three states. Clint Watts, a former FBI agent, writes in his recent book, “Messing with the Enemy,” that “Russia absolutely influenced the U.S. presidential election,” especially in Michigan and Wisconsin, where Trump’s winning margin was less than 1 percent in each state. [W]e know its propaganda reached 126 million people via Facebook alone. A BuzzFeed analysis found that fake news stories on Facebook generated more social engagement in the last three months of the campaign than did legitimate articles: The “20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.” Almost all of this “fake news” was either started or spread by Russian bots, . . . Elsewhere on social media, tens of thousands of Russian bots spread pro-Trump messages on Twitter, which has already notified about 1.4 million users that they interacted with Russian accounts. The Russian disinformation, propagating hashtags such as #Hillary4Prison and #MAGA, reflected what the Trump campaign was saying. Russia also hacked voting systems in at least 39 states, and while there is no evidence that vote tallies were changed, Russians may have used the stolen data to target their social media or shared the results with the Trump campaign. The Senate Intelligence Committee found that “in a small number of states” the Russians may have been able to “alter or delete voter registration data,” potentially disenfranchising Clinton voters. And then there was the crucial impact of the Russian hacks of Democratic documents disseminated primarily by WikiLeaks.
The first tranche of stolen documents — more than 19,000 emails and 8,000 attachments — was strategically released on July 22, 2016, three days before the Democratic convention. The second tranche of stolen documents was released on Oct. 7, just 29 minutes after The Post reported on the “Access Hollywood” videotape in which Trump is heard boasting about grabbing women by the genitals. A third release of stolen emails, on Oct. 11, revealed that Democratic operative Donna Brazile, while working at CNN, had provided debate questions to Clinton during the primaries and that senior Democratic operatives, who were themselves Catholics, had exchanged emails disparaging Republicans who cherry-picked their faith for political gain. This fueled Trump’s narrative that the election was “rigged” and that the “Clinton team” was, as he said, “viciously attacking Catholics and Evangelicals.” The latter charge, unfair as it was, proved especially important in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — swing states with lots of Catholic voters. Now, by contrast, Trump and his apologists pretend that the Russian intervention — including the WikiLeaks revelations — was no big deal. That beggars belief. Even if the Russians had failed, they still attacked our democracy. Yet they didn’t fail: Trump won. Watts concludes: “Without the Russian influence effort, I believe Trump would not have even been within striking distance of Clinton on Election Day.” That is the inconvenient truth the Putin Republicans won’t admit.

We are truly living a real life version of a spy thriller where the White House has been co-opted by a hostile foreign power.

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