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The Russians have infiltrated the Republican Party

A. B. Man III

The Republican Party was once a great party that is no longer the case. They once stood up to Russia, they told the American people how much stronger they were at protecting and defending America from the Russians and others threats to America than the Democratic Party. The Russians have infiltrated the Republican Party, the NRA, white evangelicals and white nationalist in attempt to sow division in America, and the Republican Party have welcome them with open arms. If the Republican Party cannot protect itself from being infiltrated by the Russians, how can they protect us from the Russian or other enemies?

Trump, the Republican Party, Fox News and right-wing media are using lies, alternative facts, propaganda and in some cases Russian propaganda against the American people to win elections to stay in power, in the process they are helping Putin and the Russian while destroying our institutions, our democracy and the trust of the American people in our institutions. Anyone who uses using lies, alternative facts and propaganda is a threat to our democracy.

Trump openly shows his support of Putin and Russia over America every time he supports Putin over America, our soldiers, our intelligent agencies and our allies. Add to that the fact that Fox News host Tucker Carlson admitted he 'roots for Russia against the west tells you all you need to know these people are not real Americans they are traitors. Make no mistake about it anyone who uses Russian propaganda against us, roots for or supports our enemies over our country is our enemies and are traitors to America.

When you have a sitting president, Republican senators, Republican congressional representatives, Fox News and right-wing using Russian propaganda and talking points to attack democrats and protect Trump you have to wonder how deep Russia has infiltrated the Republican Party and the right-wing establishment. If the place where you get your news uses alternative facts or Russian propaganda, you should find a news source for your news.

No one in America would have thought the day would come that Americans would need to worry about the Republican Party being infiltrated by a hostile foreign power well that day has come and every American should worry about how deep the Russians have infiltrated the Republican Party. The Republican Party may cast the Democratic Party as a threat but the real threat to America is the Republican Party. If Americans wants to save our democracy and our institutions, we need to vote out Trump and his enablers, and anyone who uses alternative facts and Russian propaganda to sow division and chaos in our country if we do not vote these traitors, we will lose our democracy.

Learn more about how the Russians have infiltrated the Republican Party and the right-wing to sow division and chaos in an attempt to destroy our democracy.

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON, Sept 20 (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors on Monday unsealed criminal charges against two longtime Republican Party operatives, accusing them of illegally funneling a foreign campaign contribution to former President Donald Trump in 2016.

According to an indictment unsealed in federal court in the District of Columbia, Jesse Benton and Doug Wead "conspired to illegally funnel thousands of dollars of foreign money from a Russian foreign national into an election for the Office of President of the United States of America." more...

By Jack Stubbs

LONDON (Reuters) - The Russian group accused of meddling in the 2016 U.S. election has posed as an independent news outlet to target right-wing social media users ahead of this year’s vote, two people familiar with an FBI probe into the activity told Reuters. The latest operation centred around a pseudo media organisation called the Newsroom for American and European Based Citizens (NAEBC), which was run by people associated with the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, the sources said.

U.S. prosecutors say the agency played a key role in Russian efforts to sway the 2016 election in favour of President Donald Trump, and Facebook and Twitter exposed a fake left-wing media outlet in September which they said was run by people connected to the organisation. NAEBC and its activity, which have not been previously reported, now show that Russian attempts to influence U.S. voters ahead of the 2020 election have targeted both sides of the political divide.

The website predominantly focused on U.S. politics and current events, republishing articles from conservative media and paying real Americans to write about politically-sensitive issues. A network of accounts posing as editors and journalists then promoted the articles on social media sites favoured by right-wing users. more...

A nearly 1,000-page report confirmed the special counsel’s findings at a moment when President Trump’s allies have sought to undermine that inquiry.
By Mark Mazzetti

WASHINGTON — A sprawling report released Tuesday by a Republican-controlled Senate panel that spent three years investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election laid out an extensive web of contacts between Trump campaign advisers and Kremlin officials and other Russians, including at least one intelligence officer and others tied to the country’s spy services.

The report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, totaling nearly 1,000 pages, drew to a close one of the highest-profile congressional investigations in recent memory and could be the last word from an official government inquiry about the expansive Russian campaign to sabotage the 2016 election.

It provided a bipartisan Senate imprimatur for an extraordinary set of facts: The Russian government disrupted an American election to help Mr. Trump become president, Russian intelligence services viewed members of the Trump campaign as easily manipulated, and some of Mr. Trump’s advisers were eager for the help from an American adversary. more...

The 11 Hour
U.S. intelligence officials say that it was Russia who hacked the DNC in the 2016 elections, but some Republicans are still using a favorite talking point of the Kremlin to suggest it could have been Ukraine. Philip Rucker reacts.

Deadline White House
The Bulwark’s Charlie Sykes on the lengths congressional Republicans are going to in order to protect Donald Trump

John Kennedy and Roger Wicker’s comments are a taste of what’s to come during a Senate trial.
By Aaron Rupar

The consensus conclusion of the US intelligence community is that the Russian government was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton’s campaign during the 2016 election. This finding was affirmed by a bipartisan Senate investigation and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who in painstaking detail laid out how Russian intelligence officers helped Trump not only through hacks, but also with the ensuing WikiLeaks anti-Clinton propaganda campaign featuring the emails stolen during those hacks.

Nonetheless, nearly three years after the US intelligence community first announced this consensus conclusion, Republicans senators are publicly trying to gaslight people about what happened in 2016 by insisting that purported — but in reality nonexistent — Ukrainian election interference is just as concerning as what Russia did. Their aim appears to be twofold: justifying the conspiracy theories Trump tried to leverage the Ukrainian government into investigating (and that are at the heart of the House’s impeachment inquiry), and drawing into question whether Trump actually benefitted from foreign interference. “I’m saying that Ms. Hill is entitled to her opinion”

That Republican senators are choosing this moment to push unfounded Ukrainian interference conspiracy theories is particularly galling in light of Russia expert and former National Security Council official Fiona Hill’s testimony before impeachment investigators last Thursday. Hill used her opening statement to attack Republicans for indulging in unfounded conspiracy theories. She described the Ukrainian interference notion as “a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves,” adding, “I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternative narrative that the Ukrainian government is a US adversary, and that Ukraine — not Russia — attacked us in 2016.”

By Jenni Fink

Former Director of the United States Office of Government Ethics Walter Shaub said that Fox News host Tucker Carlson's rooting for Russia in the Ukraine conflict shows a shift in contrasting opinions in America. "This clip is just one more exhibit supporting the case that it's no longer left vs. right but democracy vs. authoritarianism," Shaub tweeted on Tuesday. "I think many still underestimate the threat to the republic."

On Monday night, Carlson had Richard Goodstein, who served as an adviser to both President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on his show, Tucker Carlson Tonight, to discuss impeachment. During the segment, Carlson said he supported Russia and asked Goodstein why people should have to root for Ukraine.

"Those of us that are watching think preserving democracy is important," Goodstein said. "Russia is trying to undo our democracy. They're jealous of us." Goodstein also pointed to a comment former Vice President Dick Cheney made at The Economic Times' Global Business Summit in 2017.

Cheney said there was no question that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government tried to interfere with America's "basic fundamental democratic process." The Russians' interference in the 2016 election, Cheney said, would be considered an "act of war" in some quarters.

Carlson pushed back against the threat level Goodstein assigned to Russia, asking him if he thought Russia was a greater threat to the United States than China. The former Clinton adviser characterized the two countries as threats in different ways. While China was a threat to America economically, our democracy, according to Goodstein, hinges on Ukraine being able to stop the Russians' impositions against Western Europe.

Washington Post

Over the past month, House Republicans and Fox News personalities have echoed each other’s talking points, decrying the impeachment inquiry as a “Soviet-style” process. Video Read more: https://wapo.st/2CfobnF.

Casey Michel

The group and its origins sound innocuous enough. But the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) — a right-wing group founded 36 years ago — has deepened connections between America’s religious right and Russians even as the latter have been sanctioned by the United States, according to a ThinkProgress investigation.

By networking with Russians, the HSLDA — now America’s largest right-wing homeschooling association — has provided the Kremlin with a new avenue of influence over some of the most conservative organizations in the United States. And while investigations by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, intelligence organizations, and congressional committees have focused on Russia’s efforts to influence U.S. elections, Russian ties to groups like the HSLDA demonstrate the Kremlin’s broader attempts to hold sway over American policies.

Other ties between sanctioned Russians and the American far-right are well documented. From Christian fundamentalists to white supremacists to secession movements to fascists in the so-called “alt-right,” the links are as diffuse as they are damning. Not only have these networks brought Russian agents into close contact with higher-ups in the Republican party, but they’ve presented some of the primary threads of the Kremlin’s efforts at upending and unwinding American democracy. more...

Outing “the whistleblower” is the most egregious, but certainly not the only, example of Kremlin-funded media cheerleading the fight against impeachment. They love “their” Trump.
By Julia Davis

Standing beside an approving Donald Trump at a rally in Kentucky on Monday night, Republican Sen. Rand Paul demanded the media unmask the whistleblower whose report about the president’s alleged abuse of power dealing with Ukraine sparked impeachment proceedings.American news organizations resisted the pressure, but—in a 2019 re-play of “Russia, if you’re listening”—Kremlin-controlled state media promptly jumped on it.

Shortly after Sen. Paul tweeted out an article that speculated in considerable detail about the identity of the whistleblower—with a photograph, a name, and details about the purported political history of a CIA professional—Russian state media followed suit. As if on cue, the Kremlin-controlled heavy hitters—TASS, RT, Rossiya-1—disseminated the same information. But unlike Rand Paul, one of the Russian state media outlets didn’t seem to find the source—Real Clear Investigations—to be particularly impressive, and claimed falsely that the material was published originally by The Washington Post.

This was the most egregious, but certainly not the only example of Kremlin-funded media cheerleading for Trump’s fight against impeachment as proceedings against him unfold with growing speed. As a chorus of talking heads on Fox News have picked up on Trump’s talking points, which is predictable—they’ve also been echoed across the pond, albeit with a tinge of irony. “Have you lost your minds that you want to remove our Donald Ivanovych?” asked Vladimir Soloviev, the host of the television show Evening with Vladimir Soloviev.

“When they say that Trump is weakening the United States—yes, he is. And that’s why we love him.”
— Karen Shakhnazarov, CEO of Mosfilm Studio and a prominent fixture on Russian state television

Russian experts, government officials, and prominent talking heads often deride the American president for his Twitter clangor, haphazard approach to foreign policy, clownish lack of decorum, and unfiltered stream of verbalized consciousness. But all the reasons they believe Trump “isn’t a very good president” for America are precisely their reasons for thinking he is so great for Russia.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a Russian client whose regime teetered on the brink of collapse only to be saved definitively by Trump’s chaotic approach to the Middle East, recently said that “President Trump is the best type of president for a foe.” The Russians heartily agree. The Trump presidency has been wildly successful for Russia, which is eagerly stepping into every vacuum created by the retreat of the United States on the world stage. Full Story

Sen. Chris Murphy called out the GOP for using Moscow’s conspiracy theories to defend President Donald Trump.
By Ed Mazza

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) called out the Republican Party for advancing Russian conspiracy theories as it continues to defend President Donald Trump during the impeachment inquiry. “Call me old fashioned, but I think it’s a little unsavory the Republican Party is becoming the most important global asset of Russian intel,” Murphy tweeted on Sunday. “I get it, Russia’s bonkers ‘Ukraine did it, not Russia’ story is all the GOP has to defend their guy, but really?”

Murphy’s tweet came hours after one of his Senate colleagues essentially repeated a debunked Russian talking point on “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “I think both Russia and Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said. “I think it’s been well-documented.” He also claimed that Ukraine’s former president, Petro Poroshenko, had been actively working for Hillary Clinton.

As host Chuck Todd pointed out, the U.S. intelligence community has implicated only Russia for 2016 election interference and recently warned senators that Moscow was trying to frame Ukraine for it. “You realize the only person selling this argument outside the United States is ... Vladimir Putin?” Todd said. “You’ve done exactly what the Russian operation is trying to get American politicians to do. Are you at all concerned that you’ve been duped?” more...

Russians went looking for allies on the American left for decades. Then they found Trump and the Republicans
Lucian K. Truscott IV

The Russians wasted decades infiltrating the left attempting to gain purchase in American political life. There was the Communist Party USA, of course. Established in 1919, the CPUSA grew through the 1930s and boasted a membership of about 100,000 at the beginning of World War II. A hundred thousand! Whoop-de-doo!

Then there were the spinoff lefty parties like the Socialist Workers Party, the Progressive Labor Party, the Workers World Party, the Socialist Labor Party, the Progressive Labor Party — we could go on listing one splinter group after another with “socialist” or “labor” or “workers” in its title. They were tiny groups with memberships that were sometimes less than 100, and they would all deny being infiltrated by the Russkies, naturally. So would the “New Left” groups that came later, like SDS and The Weathermen. Nobody wanted to admit they were under Russian influence. Everything they were doing, from opposing the war in Vietnam to civil rights to fighting for free speech, was being done for completely pure reasons. more...

By Rachel Frazin

A new report by Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee alleges that the National Rifle Association (NRA) "became a foreign asset" for Russia ahead of the 2016 election. The document published Friday says that the NRA and its officers, board members and donors "engaged in a years-long effort to facilitate the U.S.-based activities of Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin," despite being aware of the two Russian nationals' ties to the Kremlin. "The scope of the NRA’s support for these Russian activities raises concerns about whether the activity in which the NRA, its officers and board members engaged were in furtherance of the organization’s exempt purpose," it said.  

Last year, Butina pleaded guilty to acting as an unregistered foreign agent on behalf of the Russian government. Torshin is a Russian banker and former politician.  The report cited a series of emails between NRA officials and and interviews conducted during the 18-month investigation. One 2015 email seen by NRA executives said "Many powerful figures in the Kremlin are counting on Torshin to prove his American connections–a last minute important member cancellation could affect his political future." The Senate Democrats also found that over a years-long period, "NRA officers and board members directed organization resources toward facilitating the activities of Butina and Torshin in the United States." The report also raised questions about an NRA delegation's travel to Moscow in December 2015.  "The NRA initially reimbursed some trip expenses," it said. "In 2018, after Senator Wyden first asked the NRA about its relationship to Torshin, the organization sought reimbursement ... to get trip expense payments 'off the NRA’s books.' " Democrats said that the report shows wrongdoing by the gun rights organization. Full Story

When the U.S.S.R. collapsed, Washington bet on the global spread of democratic capitalist values—and lost. For two years, in the early 1990s, Richard Palmer served as the CIA station chief in the United States’ Moscow embassy. The events unfolding around him—the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the rise of Russia—were so chaotic, so traumatic and exhilarating, that they mostly eluded clearheaded analysis. But from all the intelligence that washed over his desk, Palmer acquired a crystalline understanding of the deeper narrative of those times.

Much of the rest of the world wanted to shout for joy about the trajectory of history, and how it pointed in the direction of free markets and liberal democracy. Palmer’s account of events in Russia, however, was pure bummer. In the fall of 1999, he testified before a congressional committee to disabuse members of Congress of their optimism and to warn them of what was to come. American officialdom, Palmer believed, had badly misjudged Russia. Washington had placed its faith in the new regime’s elites; it took them at their word when they professed their commitment to democratic capitalism. But Palmer had seen up close how the world’s growing interconnectedness—and global finance in particular—could be deployed for ill. During the Cold War, the KGB had developed an expert understanding of the banking byways of the West, and spymasters had become adept at dispensing cash to agents abroad.

That proficiency facilitated the amassing of new fortunes. In the dying days of the U.S.S.R., Palmer had watched as his old adversaries in Soviet intelligence shoveled billions from the state treasury into private accounts across Europe and the U.S. It was one of history’s greatest heists. Washington told itself a comforting story that minimized the importance of this outbreak of kleptomania: These were criminal outliers and rogue profiteers rushing to exploit the weakness of the new state. This narrative infuriated Palmer. He wanted to shake Congress into recognizing that the thieves were the very elites who presided over every corner of the system. “For the U.S. to be like Russia is today,” he explained to the House committee, “it would be necessary to have massive corruption by the majority of the members at Congress as well as by the Departments of Justice and Treasury, and agents of the FBI, CIA, DIA, IRS, Marshal Service, Border Patrol; state and local police officers; the Federal Reserve Bank; Supreme Court justices …” In his testimony, Palmer even mentioned Russia’s newly installed and little-known prime minister (whom he mistakenly referred to as Boris Putin), accusing him of “helping to loot Russia.” Full Story

A Justice Department filing details a Russian influence scheme possibly related to the Trump-Russia scandal.
By David Corn

With so much attention justifiably focused on Robert Mueller’s report this past week, not as much notice was paid to a parallel matter regarding another Russian effort to influence policy and politics in the United States: the pending sentencing of confessed Russian agent Maria Butina. But a document filed in that case provides context for understanding the Trump-Russia scandal, and it reads a bit like a spy thriller. In preparation for a sentencing hearing for Butina scheduled for this coming Friday, the Justice Department submitted a memo requesting that Butina, who faces a maximum sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine, be imprisoned for 18 months.

This document depicts Butina running a covert operation to obtain influence for Russia in the United States—with a key target being the National Rifle Association. In contrast, the Mueller report did not explain the counterintelligence aspects of the Trump-Russia scandal. That is, the report did not cover whether the curious series of interactions between the Trump camp and Russians during the campaign were part of a Moscow scheme to penetrate Trump’s circle to develop access and influence. (The report did state that the “Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion” and noted that Trump denied the attack was underway while seeking to benefit from it.) Counterintelligence investigations—different from criminal inquiries—rarely become public and often depend on top-secret material that the US intelligence community hates to reveal. Yet it was a counterintelligence concern that first triggered the FBI investigation of contacts between Trump associates and Russians in the summer of 2016. US intelligence wanted to know if Putin’s regime was attempting to get its hooks into Trump or people within his orbit.

Though this matter was left unaddressed by the Mueller report, the Justice Department filing in the Butina case details how Butina, the thirtysomething Russian native who described herself as a gun rights advocate, had used the NRA and the Republican Party in an effort to obtain clandestine influence for Moscow within US politics. And that submission included a statement from a former top FBI counterintelligence expert who noted that Butina’s activities had “tremendous intelligence value” for the Russian government and the potential for “harm to the integrity of the United States’ political processes and internal government dealings, as well as to US foreign policy interests and national security.” The Justice Department memo is essentially a primer on how an influence operation is conducted.

Noting that Butina was an agent of Alexander Torshin, a former Russian senator and a governor of Russia’s Central Bank who was a longtime ally of Vladimir Putin (and who has been accused of having ties to the Russian mob—an allegation he has denied), the submission says that Butina looked for “key information about Americans who were in a position to influence United States politics and took steps to establish an unofficial line of communication between Russia and these Americans.” And, it asserts, her activities were “part of Russia’s broader scheme to acquire information and establish relationships and communication channels that can be exploited to the Russian Federation’s benefit.” Note the reference to “Russia’s broader scheme”—which could possibly include the contacts detailed in the Mueller report. Butina was something other than the usual secret agent, according to the filing: Full Story

Trump’s Russian ties and Russian strategy converged in 2016 as Russia and the Trump campaign colluded to land him in the Oval Office.
It is now apparent that there was no bright line separating the two campaigns to elect Donald Trump. Throughout his presidential campaign, members of Trump’s inner circle had secret conversations and meetings with numerous Kremlin-linked individuals, which they repeatedly lied about or failed to disclose. Though much about these contacts remains unknown, what is known provides strong evidence that the Kremlin and the Trump campaign were in continual communication.

A pro-Russia candidate: From the day he entered the race, June 16, 2015, Trump staked out a pro-Russia platform. Trump told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly that his experiences with Russians in Moscow led him to believe that “you can get along with those people and get along with them well.” Over the course of the next month, Trump made similar on-air comments to Fox News’s Sean Hannity and in a speech at the City Club of Chicago. On July 11, he made his first direct reference to repealing sanctions when responding to a question from Maria Butina, a graduate student who the U.S. Department of Justice later identified as an alleged Russian agent. Butina also allegedly infiltrated the National Rifle Association and other conservative groups on behalf of the Russian government. (Butina has pleaded not guilty to the charges and, as of this writing, is in jail awaiting trial.)

In a question-and-answer session with Trump in Las Vegas, Butina asked whether sanctions were part of his “foreign politics.” Trump replied, “I know Putin and I’ll tell you what, we get along with Putin. . . . I don’t think you’d need the sanctions.” Trump went on to praise Russian President Vladimir Putin dozens of times during the primaries, frequently pairing his praise with suggestions that, if elected, he would consider lifting sanctions on Russia. These remarks stood out because they directly contradicted decades of Republican sentiment. Since the end of World War II, the Republican Party had actively staked out a hawkish position on Russia. The party’s previous presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, famously described Russia as America’s “number one geopolitical foe.” Trump’s Republican opponents frequently attacked not only Putin but also Obama, whom they saw as having enabled Putin’s increased stature through Obama’s nonconfrontational foreign policy.

Trump, on the other hand, repeatedly called for even greater deference to Putin and Russia, saying at a debate in November 2015 that he hoped to work with Russia to “knock the hell out of ISIS.” What also makes Trump’s stance on Russia notable is that it was one of the few issues on which he remained consistent, despite there being no clear political rationale for doing so. During his campaign, Trump was both famously heterodox (for example, he repeatedly attacked free-trade agreements, long a linchpin of Republican economic policy) and famously difficult to pin down on any one position (for example, he promised he would both repeal the Affordable Care Act and protect Medicaid and Medicare, and frequently outright denied his own previous statements and policy positions). Even Trump’s noted affinity for autocratic leaders failed to account for his stance; for example, though he has praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for his authoritarian ways, Trump has also repeatedly criticized—as well as directly antagonized—China on economic issues. As a result, his continual praise for Putin and Russia drew significant attention, even before reporting after the election revealed the extent of Russian interference and the dozens of contacts and meetings between Trump’s campaign and Kremlin-linked officials. Full Story

By Tim Mak

The National Rifle Association acted as a "foreign asset" for Russia in the period leading up to the 2016 election, according to a new investigation unveiled Friday by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. Drawing on contemporaneous emails and private interviews, an 18-month probe by the Senate Finance Committee's Democratic staff found that the NRA underwrote political access for Russian nationals Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin more than previously known — even though the two had declared their ties to the Kremlin. The report, available here, also describes how closely the gun rights group was involved with organizing a 2015 visit by some of its leaders to Moscow.

Then-NRA vice president Pete Brownell, who would later become NRA president, was enticed to visit Russia with the promise of personal business opportunities — and the NRA covered a portion of the trip's costs. The conclusions of the Senate investigation could have legal implications for the NRA, Wyden says. Tax-exempt organizations are barred from using funds for the personal benefit of its officials or for actions significantly outside their stated missions. The revelations in the Senate report raise questions about whether the NRA could face civil penalties or lose its tax-exempt status. Attorneys general in the state of New York and the District of Columbia are conducting separate probes into alleged wrongdoing at the gun rights organization. These probes have a broader scope than the Senate report, which focuses on Russia. Full Story

A meticulous analysis of online activity during the 2016 campaign makes a powerful case that targeted cyberattacks by hackers and trolls were decisive.
By Jane Mayer

Donald Trump has adopted many contradictory positions since taking office, but he has been unwavering on one point: that Russia played no role in putting him in the Oval Office. Trump dismisses the idea that Russian interference affected the outcome of the 2016 election, calling it a “made-up story,” “ridiculous,” and “a hoax.” He finds the subject so threatening to his legitimacy that—according to “The Perfect Weapon,” a recent book on cyber sabotage by David Sanger, of the Times—aides say he refuses even to discuss it.

In public, Trump has characterized all efforts to investigate the foreign attacks on American democracy during the campaign as a “witch hunt”; in March, he insisted that “the Russians had no impact on our votes whatsoever.” Few people, including Trump’s opponents, have publicly challenged the widespread belief that no obtainable evidence can prove that Russian interference changed any votes. Democrats, for the most part, have avoided attributing Hillary Clinton’s defeat directly to Russian machinations. They have more readily blamed James Comey, the former F.B.I. director, for reversing Clinton’s thin lead in the final days of the campaign by reopening a criminal investigation into her mishandling of classified e-mails.

Many have also expressed frustration with Clinton’s weak performance as a candidate, and with her campaign’s tactical errors. Instead of investigating whether Russia tipped the electoral scales on its own, they’ve focussed on the possibility that Trump colluded with Russia, and that this, along with other crimes, might be exposed by the probe being conducted by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. The U.S. intelligence community, for its part, is prohibited from investigating domestic political affairs. James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence, told me, “We try not to spy on Americans. It’s not in our charter.” He emphasized that, although he and other intelligence officials produced—and shared with Trump—a postelection report confirming an extensive cyberattack by Russia, the assessment did not attempt to gauge how this foreign meddling had affected American voters.

Speaking for himself, however, he told me that “it stretches credulity to think the Russians didn’t turn the election.” Ordinarily, Congress would aggressively examine an electoral controversy of this magnitude, but the official investigations in the House and the Senate, led by Republicans, have been too stymied by partisanship to address the ultimate question of whether Trump’s victory was legitimate. Although the Senate hearings are still under way, the Intelligence Committee chairman, Richard Burr, a Republican, has already declared, “What we cannot do, however, is calculate the impact that foreign meddling and social media had on this election.” Full Story

by Nancy LeTourneau

One of the biggest stories of the week had to do with a Russian, but not directly related to the Mueller investigation. Maria Butina, a 30-year-old Russian national, admitted Thursday in federal court that she made contacts with the NRA and top Republican officials in an attempt to secretly influence US politics at Russia’s behest. Butina, who is a gun rights activist, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to act as a foreign agent as part of a cooperation agreement with prosecutors. She admitted to acting under the direction of a Russian official, Alexander Torshin, another prominent gun rights supporter and a fixture in Russian politics.

In other words, Butina was a Russian agent whose job was to infiltrate the NRA in particular and gun rights groups in general. Given what we know about how things work in Russia, it might be that Torshin was her handler, but ultimately Butina would have been working at the behest of Vladimir Putin. If that is correct, it is important to keep in mind that Russia’s president is no supporter of gun rights when it comes to his own people. So Butina’s work was more aimed at infiltrating a conservative political audience than anything having to do with their agenda. With that in mind, it is worth remembering that gun rights groups aren’t the only conservative political audience Putin courted. Back in 2017, Casey Michel documented how Russia became the global leader of the Christian right.

It all started when Putin mended fences with the Russian Orthodox Church and then started inserting things like this into his public pronouncements. “We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization,” he said at a conference in 2013. “They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious, and even sexual … They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.” By succumbing to secularism, he noted on another occasion, the West was trending toward “chaotic darkness” and a “return to a primitive state.”

White evangelicals like Franklin Graham ate it up—especially when it was paired with Putin’s crack-down on gays and lesbians in 2013. The other group Putin courted was white nationalists. For example, he sent a Russian emissary to a meeting of American and European white nationalists in Hungary in 2014 and hosted a meeting of white nationalists in St. Petersburg in 2015. More in keeping with the kind of activity in which Russia engaged during the presidential election, it turns out that an online leader of secessionist movements in the U.S. was operating from his apartment in Yekaterinburg—about 1,000 miles from Moscow. What we see with all of this is that since about a year after he was re-elected as president of Russia, Putin hasn’t simply been recruiting Donald Trump as an asset, he has been courting the three groups that now make up the base of the Republican Party: gun rights groups, white evangelicals, and white nationalists. You might ask what Putin would get out of that. Full Story

By Ken Dilanian, Julia Ainsley and Carol E. Lee

WASHINGTON — In the weeks after he became the Republican nominee on July 19, 2016, Donald Trump was warned that foreign adversaries, including Russia, would probably try to spy on and infiltrate his campaign, according to multiple government officials familiar with the matter. The warning came in the form of a high-level counterintelligence briefing by senior FBI officials, the officials said. A similar briefing was given to Hillary Clinton, they added. They said the briefings, which are commonly provided to presidential nominees, were designed to educate the candidates and their top aides about potential threats from foreign spies. The candidates were urged to alert the FBI about any suspicious overtures to their campaigns, the officials said.

The Clinton campaign didn't respond to a request for comment. The briefings were led by counterintelligence specialists from the FBI, the sources said. They were timed to occur around the period when the candidates began receiving classified intelligence, the officials said, which put them at greater risk for being targeted by foreign spies. Trump's first intelligence briefing as Republican nominee was Aug. 17, 2016, sources told NBC News at the time. Trump was "briefed and warned" at the session about potential espionage threats from Russia, two former law enforcement officials familiar with the sessions told NBC News. A source close to the White House said their position is that Trump was unaware of the contacts between his campaign and Russians.

"That the Republican and Democrat nominee for president received a standardized briefing on counterintelligence is hardly a news story," said Raj Shah, a White House spokesman. "That NBC News hears about the contents of this classified conversation due to an inappropriate leak is a news story." It's unclear whether the warning about Russia was passed on to other campaign officials. Still, the revelation that the Trump campaign was warned about spying threats from Russia and other adversaries, which has not been previously reported, casts a new light on the Trump campaign's dealings with Russians in the months before the November election. Full Story

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