Ryan Goodman writes: Russia’s election interference began well before the general election. It started during the GOP primaries and clearly in support of Donald Trump over his GOP opponents. Thanks to investigative reporting by the New York Times, we now know, at the very least, the Trump campaign was open to support from the Russian government by early June 2016 when senior campaign members met with Russians purporting to have information from the Kremlin that would harm Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid, discussed timing for implementing Russian support, and failed to report any of this to U.S. authorities. Many have raised the question whether the Trump campaign’s knowledge of Russian government support and these kinds of exchanges began before June 2016. Yet to truly understand the scope of Russian interference in the U.S. election, we must ask a more specific question: did the Trump campaign know about, accept, or work with the Russian government when the Kremlin interfered in the GOP primary?
The publicly available information on this matter should prompt Congress, Robert Mueller, news media, and others to pursue that question with utmost concern. Let’s take a closer look.
I. Russia’s election interference during the Republican primary
Before we explore whether the Trump team was working with Russia during the primaries, it’s worth briefly reviewing the Russian government’s overall involvement in in the 2016 GOP primaries. Russian election interference reportedly took effect during the primaries in an effort to undercut GOP candidates whose positions were hostile to Moscow’s interests and, more specifically, in an effort to boost Donald Trump. The Russian operation included (at least) two prongs: a propaganda effort to spread fake news and cyber operations to steal confidential information.
When exactly did the Russian influence campaign begin? In an interview with Just Security, former FBI special agent Clint Watts explained that the Russian approach to its influence campaign involved an earlier starting point than many assume. [Continue reading…]