/Opinion | Putin helped Trump in 2016. What is he planning for 2020?

Opinion | Putin helped Trump in 2016. What is he planning for 2020?



President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a joint news conference after their summit on July 16, 2018, in Helsinki, Finland. (Chris Mcgrath/Getty Images)

We’ve just received a new report on the Russian attack on the 2016 elections, and the conclusions — because they are supported by actual evidence and are in accord with everything we’ve learned since then — will not make President Trump happy:

A bipartisan panel of U.S. senators Tuesday called for sweeping action by Congress, the White House and Silicon Valley to ensure social media sites aren’t used to interfere in the coming presidential election, delivering a sobering assessment about the weaknesses that Russian operatives exploited in the 2016 campaign.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, a Republican-led panel that has been investigating foreign electoral interference for more than two and a half years, said in blunt language that Russians worked to damage Democrat Hillary Clinton while bolstering Republican Donald Trump — and made clear that fresh rounds of interference are likely ahead of the 2020 vote.

This is nothing new, but it’s still notable that a bipartisan committee led by a Republican was able to release it, given the fact that the leader of the Republican Party still periodically claims that Russia may not have been behind the attacks.

Right out of the gate, the committee writes that the Internet Research Agency, the Russian intelligence entity tasked with waging cyberwarfare, “sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin.”

This assertion should be utterly uncontroversial by now, but think for a moment about the context in which it lands.

The president of the United States has become obsessed with a banana-pants conspiracy theory, which says there was no Russian attack in 2016 at all, but instead the whole thing was engineered from Ukraine to make Russia and Trump look bad. That Ukraine is involved is not merely coincidence: On the same phone call in which Trump made clear to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that he wanted Zelensky to get on an investigation of Joe Biden, Trump brought up this conspiracy theory.

“I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike,” Trump said to Zelensky, referencing a cybersecurity firm that worked for the Democratic National Committee. “I guess you have one of your wealthy people … the server, they say Ukraine has it.”

The conspiracy theory has it that a DNC server was spirited away to Ukraine, presumably to hide the fact that the Russians never hacked into it and the whole thing was some sort of false-flag operation.

Despite having the full resources of the U.S. intelligence apparatus at his disposal, Trump prefers to believe the speculations of a bunch of tinfoil-hat-wearers on 4chan. But that’s not all: Right now, the attorney general of the United States is bouncing around the globe trying to determine why the FBI would possibly have wanted to investigate the Russian attack that has now been extensively documented by both the Senate Intelligence Committee and Robert S. Mueller III’s prosecutors, as though the FBI’s investigation were unnecessary and obviously suspicious.

The committee was clear, as the intelligence community has been, that the Russian attack didn’t end after 2016 but is an ongoing threat, an effort to destabilize Western democracies that began before that election and continues to this day. Near the end of their report, the authors write:

The Committee recommends that the Executive Branch should, in the run up to the 2020 election, reinforce with the public the danger of attempted foreign interference in the 2020 election.

In a different time, this recommendation might be so obvious as to be mundane, but we have a president who has, both publicly and privately, welcomed and even solicited foreign interference in the 2020 election, so long as it’s done to benefit him.

Amidst the Ukraine controversy, we’ve almost forgotten about Russia, but you can bet that the Russians are already preparing their offensive actions — what intelligence professionals call “active measures” — for 2020. Which brings me to another part of the Intelligence Committee report.

Under the section titled “Features of Russian Active Measures” they list “Fluid Ideology,” noting: “Because the Kremlin’s information warfare objectives are not necessarily focused on any particular, objective truth, Russian disinformation is unconstrained by support for any specific political viewpoint and continually shifts to serve its own self-interest.”

Other “Russian Active Measures“ noted in the report include “Attacking the Media.” and “Exploiting Existing Fissures.” All of which sounds an awful lot like they’re describing Donald Trump, the campaign he waged in 2016 and the one he’ll mount in 2020.

Though we can’t say with complete certainty that Russia will be working to help Trump get reelected, it would be a shock if it doesn’t. Vladimir Putin surely derives no end of satisfaction from the fact that the American president acts toward him like an 11-year-old girl who got a chance to talk to one of the Jonas brothers.

And if Putin’s goal is to spread chaos and disorder throughout the West, there’s no better way to do it than to help Trump stick around.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Why this latest Trump tactic is different

Michael McFaul: A high-level Senate report confirms it: Our elections still aren’t safe

Dana Milbank: It was never about ‘America First.’ It’s always been Trump first.

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Stephanie Murphy: Why is the Russian meddling in 2016 such a big secret? I’m not allowed to say.

Max Boot: Trump isn’t loyal to Russia — or America. Only to himself.