Russian Interference in American Politics

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This is a collaborative knowledge base; feel free to propose edits/additions that you believe are important for others to know. Contributions will be reviewed and approved based on quality and accuracy.

Action Items

Recent Updates

  • 3/15/2017 The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs holds a hearing at 10:30 am eastern time, “Assessing U.S. Sanctions on Russia: Next Steps.” The hearing can be viewed Hearing about Sanctions on Russia
  • 3/15/2015 A sub-committee of the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Lindsay Graham, holds a hearing at 2:30 pm eastern to explore the ways in which Russia is interfering in western democracies, it can be viewed at on Russian involvement in Western Democracies
  • 3/15/2017 The Department of Justice announced today that two Russian spies, acting as Russian state-sponsored hackers, were responsible for stealing data from Yahoo in 2014.[2][3]
  • 3/14/2017 Senator Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has informed the Trump administration that unless the committee receives a briefing from FBI Director Comey the committee will withhold approving any new appointments to the Attorney General's office, it's remarkable because Grassley is in the same party at the administration.[4]

What We Know About Russian Influence on our Presidential Election of 2016

What we know with certainty comes from a declassified version of an Intelligence Community (IC) report that documented Russian interference in our electoral process, which concluded that Vladimir Putin personally ordered and directed a hostile campaign against the United States during the 2016 elections. And, the IC is certain that Russia will take what it learned from the election and apply to elections in other countries. Most importantly, they are certain that Russia will conduct a similar hostile action in future US elections.[5]

Russia’s campaign to influence the 2016 election was conducted in order to:

  • Undermine the position of the US as the leader of western democracies;
  • Undermine faith in the US democratic processes, both in the US and abroad;
  • Denigrate Hillary Clinton and her campaign to harm her candidacy and, if she was elected, to harm her presidency;
  • Help the candidacy of Donald Trump

Russian actions to support these goals followed a well developed strategy that includes:

  • Covert actions such as stealing data from private computers in order to either blackmail victims or to embarrass people by giving that stolen date to outlets like WikiLeaks;
  • Using state run media to spread propaganda and paid social media trolls to create an epidemic of Fake News to make it difficult to identify what is true and what is false news.[6]

What Russian Influence on the 2016 Election Means

  • John McCain (R-AZ) is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee states that the Russian cyber attack during the 2016 election can be seen as an act of war and that it threatened, and continues to threaten, the very foundation of our democracy.[7]
  • Russian interference in the 2016 US elections can be seen as an act of hybrid warfare where, rather than a physically violent act, the act of war was in the digital landscape.[8]
  • NATO’s most senior British officer has claimed that alleged Russian cyber attacks could be deemed an act of aggression that triggers the alliance’s principle that an attack on one nation is an attack on all of the nations (also known as collective defense).[9]

Why Russia is still an Enemy of the US

Russia wants to expand its area of control and threatens many US allies throughout the world, especially in Europe where even our scandanavian allies are rapidly increasing their miliary capacity.[10][11]

Vladimir Putin rules Russia as an authoritarian dictator; he acquired this power by denying citizens the right to a free press, to assemble in protest, by denying the right for citizens to express themselves and by rewarding Russian billionaires, known as oligarchs. Although there are elections in Russia they are rigged to the advantage of the candidates that Putin prefers.

  • Putin aggressively controls the press in Russia through manufacturing criminal charges and threats of violence and many journalists have been attacked, and while it is hard to verify every event, nearly 40 journalists have been murdered since Putin took power in 2000.[12][13]
  • Putin deploys excessive force to repress even small protests, in 2007 he deployed 9,000 troops to arrest 170 people who were participating in a protest that involved just a couple of hundred protestors.[14]
  • Putin, in 2012, charged members of a punk rock band with “hooliganism” and sent two of the band members to spend two years in a hard labor camp.[15]

Overview of Trump, Trump's Campaign and Connections to Russia

The attempt by Russia to destabilize US democratic institutions and influence the election in the US included three separate elements, according to a declassified report on Russian involvement in the 2016 Presidential election: [16]

  • Coordination between Russia and associates of Donald Trump.
  • Hacking into computer networks and disclosure information at pivotal times;
  • An organized influence campaign rooted in social media;

People Close to Trump with Connections to Russia

The connections between Donald Trump, his business, his campaign, and Russian businesses and financiers and agents of the Russian government are complex. The following infographics are a helpful guide.

RussiaConnection.jpg

Click on the person's name for their ties: Wilbur Ross, Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn.

Impact of Russian Interference in 2016 Election

While it's difficult to estimate the exact impact the release of stolen data had on the election, national polls show that Trump won among voters who waited until October to choose between the two candidates, by 51 percent to 37 percent[17], when Wikileaks was a major national story.
Wikileaks was a major national story in October 2016[1].


Timeline of Communication (possible coordination) between Trump Campaign and Russia

  • Donald Trump met with Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, on April 27, 2017 immediately prior to a speech Trump gave on foreign policy; in this speech Trump asserted that he would improve US-Russian relations.[18]
  • On February 20th, 2017 a journalist published a document attempting to confirm the contents of the dossier created by the former British intelligence officer establishing collusion between Trump, his campaign, and Russia.
  • On February 14th, 2017, the New York Times published information from interviews with multiple senior members of the US Intelligence Community, confirming (but without naming any specific officials) the claims in the dossier that Trump campaign aides had repeated contact with Russian intelligence officials. The article clearly stated that the intelligence officials did not comment on the content of those communications.[19]
  • On February 13, 2017 Michael Flynn was forced to resign after it was revealed that he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the content of his conversations with Sergey I. Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States.[20]Administration officials had previously denied that Flynn had discussed sanctions on that call, and Flynn may have given false testimony to the FBI.[21][22]
  • February 10, 2017 Some elements of the dossier had been confirmed, primarily related to specific communications.[23]
  • On January 26, 2017 Department of Justice's Acting Attorney General Sally Yates reported to the new Trump administration that Flynn could be the subject of blackmail because he had lied about the content of the calls with the Russian Ambassador.[24][25]
  • On January 12, 2017 then President-Elect Trump and President Obama were briefed on a report drafted by Director of National Intelligence (DNI).[26]The report, a declassified version released on 1/6/2017 and drawing on intelligence from the CIA, FBI and NSA, and other agencies, 19 in all, disclosed a coordinated Russia campaign to interfere in the US election, to create a favorable environment for Trump and a negative impact on Clinton, and the clandestine campaign blended covert intelligence actions, like computer hacking, with overt Russian government actions via state-run media propaganda units like Russian Television (RT), and paid social media users known as trolls.[27]They did not assess the impact of that involvement on the outcome of the election.[28]Intelligence officials also included a two page summary of a series of memos, now known as the dossier, that purported to show that Russia had compromising information on Trump, that would make him vulnerable to blackmail.[29]
  • On January 10th, 2017, Buzzfeed News publicly posted a dossier, compiled by a former British intelligence official, which contained allegations that Russian intelligence services had been working to turn Trump into an asset and had compromising material which could be used as leverage over Trump. [30][31]
  • On January 10, 2017 it was reported that the FBI applied for a warrant from the FISA court (court established under the Foreign Intelligent Service Act) to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contact with Russian officials.[32]According to reports those four people are Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Michael Flynn, and Roger Stone.[33]
  • In December 2016, US intelligence agencies picked up communications between Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey I. Kislyak; such conversations may break a federal statute depending on their content, which has not as yet been made public.[34]
  • September 2016 US intelligence officials and received a copy and those who knew of Steele’s reputation began to systematically verify elements of the dossier, including several people associate with the Trump organization/campaign, communications, and a salacious account of potential blackmail evidence.[35]
  • Justice Department sources have told reporters that Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke twice during the 2016 campaign with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislak.[36][37] In addition to being Russian ambassador, Kislyak has also been identified as a top spy and spy recruiter for Russia.[38] Spokespeople for Attorney General Sessions said that he had met with the ambassador in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and not as a representative of the Trump campaign.[39] All of the 26 other members of the Senate Armed Services Committee told the Washington Post that they had not met with Kislyak in 2016.[40] The Clinton campaign confirmed that they had no contact with Russia during the campaign.[41] Sessions stated, under oath, that he had had no contact with the Russian government during the course of Trump's campaign.[42][43][44]
  • July 2016: Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski revealed that he knew and approved of Carter Page’s trip to Russia [45]
  • A dossier and then a series of memos were written by a former MI6 intelligence officer with expertise in Russia; his company was hired in spring 2016 by a Republican, and later a Democrat who wanted information on Trump’s relationship with Russians.[46][47]

Timeline of Russian Interference of U.S. elections

  • January 6, 2017 the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) submitted a declassified version of its report, drawn from the CIA, FBI and NSA, on Russian involvement in the US Presidential election of 2016; they did not assess the impact of that involvement on the outcome of the election.[48] That report disclosed a coordinated Russia campaign to interfere in the US election, to create a favorable environment for Trump and a negative impact on Clinton, and the clandestine campaign blended covert intelligence actions, like computer hacking, with overt Russian government actions via state-run media propaganda units like Russian Television (RT), and paid social media users known as trolls.[49]
  • December 29, 2016 President Obama expelled 35 Russians and shuttered two compounds related to Russian intelligence in response to Russian involvement in the US election.[50]
  • Russia intentionally contributed to negative coverage of Hillary Clinton during the month of October - a critical month before the election[51].
  • That data was disclosed at pivotal moments during the primaries and general election via Guccifer 2.0, DC Leaks and Wikileaks, run by Julian Assange.[52]
  • August, September and October of 2016 the Democratic National Committee made numerous requests of the FBI and Intelligence committees to investigate the relationship between Trump and Russia.[53]
  • On July 27, 2016 Donald Trump openly invited Putin to hack Hillary Clinton.[54]
  • Originally the Russian plan was to discredit the US electoral system, but by summer 2016 Putin and the Kremlin expressed a clear preference for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.[55]
  • In July of 2015 Russian hackers gained access to the computer networks of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and remained actively engaged in data collection until July of 2016.[56]
  • In 2015 Putin and the Kremlin expressed a clear preference for Donald Trump.[57]
  • As early as 2015 Russian directed hackers gained entry into networks connected with candidates for the Presidential primaries, think tanks, and lobbying groups they understood as being likely to influence policy on Russia.[58]
  • In 2014 Russian intelligence began actively gathering information on the US election system, and hacked into local and state electoral boards, no evidence has been found that they accessed actual voting machines or vote tally systems.[59]

Timeline of Social Media Campaign to Influence Election

  • During the summer of 2015 Russian directed social media trolls began supporting Trump’s presidency.[60] The goal at that time was to undermine faith in the US electoral system and democracy in general.[61]

Financial Connections between Trump Organization and Russia

Inquiries are also ongoing with regard to Donald Trump and the Trump Organization’s financial connections with Russia.[62]. Trump has refused to release his tax returns so it is difficult to detail his financial ties, especially with Russia.[63].

On November 13, 2016 Scott Dworkin, of the Democratic Coalition, submitted a preliminary report to President Obama, and the Democratic leadership, in which he identified and documented significant ties between Donald Trump and Russia.[64]:

  • Trump has 250 business registered in Russia.[65]
  • Beginning at least as early as 1987, before the collapse of the USSR, Trump travelled to Russia frequently; in 1987 he met with then leader of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev to discuss construction of Trump properties in Moscow, and again pursued building in Moscow in 1996.[66][67] His most recent trip was in 2013 when his Miss Universe pageant was held in Moscow.[68][69]
  • Trump himself has previously confirmed that he has a relationship with Vladimir Putin.[70]
  • Trump, and his son Eric, admitted to having significant business involvement in Russia.[71][72]
  • Trump’s financial difficulties in the 1980s and 1990s diminished his ability to borrow money from traditional lenders so he turned to alternate sources of financing, many of which have links to Russia and Russian Oligarchs.[73][74][75]
  • One example of Trump’s connection to Russian financiers has been detailed in a court case over Trump Soho, which was financed by Bayrock, a Russian affiliated criminal enterprise involved in money laundering and tax evasion; and Bayrock has been involved in financing several other Trump properties.[76]
  • One of the law firms representing Trump has substantial connections to Russia. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, LLP has an established office in Russia [77], and the firm was named "Russia Law Firm of the Year," in 2016. [78].


Active Legislative Response to Russia's Interference

  • 3/2/2017 All Democratic members of the House Committee on the Judiciary wrote to FBI Director Comey and the U.S. Attorney of the District of Columbia calling for an immediate criminal FBI investigation into Sessions' statements to Congress as well any involvement or knowledge of the Trump administration and Trump campaign.[79] The Senate Judiciary Chair rejected calls from Senate Democrats calling for Sessions to clarify his statements.[80]
  • 2/24/2017 Democratic calls for an independent investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election gained momentum this weekend when key Republicans, Lindsey Graham and Darrel Issa, agreed.[81]
  • 2/23/2017: Senate and House Republicans have blocked efforts by Democrats to force Trump to release his taxes, but Susan Collins (R-Maine) who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee has suggested the committee may use its subpoena power to obtain the tax information in order to assess Trump's ties with Russia.[82]
  • 1/10/2017: Senators propose new bipartisan sanctions against Russia, as well as a provision that would require congressional approval to lift sanctions currently in effect.[83][84]
  • 1/04/2017: Senate bill S.27 is submitted to establish an independent commission to examine and report on the facts regarding the extent of Russian official and unofficial cyber operations and other attempts to interfere in the 2016 United States national election, and for other purposes.

Ongoing Investigations

While Congress has the authority to conduct some investigative inquiry into alleged abuses of power by the executive branch, since 1999, the power to appoint a special prosecutor (an independent attorney not affiliated with the government) belongs to Assistant United States Attorney Dana Boente [85] now that AG Sessions has recused himself from investigations concerning the Trump campaign.

  • Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting an investigation into Russian involvement in the election and contacts between the Trump campaign, or supporters, and Russians. They are also examining communications between Mike Flynn and Russia at the time the Obama administration expelled several Russian intelligence officers.[86]
    • 3/2/2017 There are reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee has approached Christopher Steele, author of the Trump/Russia dossier, to testify to their committee. Although Steele is unlikely to travel to the United States, Senate Republicans and Democrats have both been working to arrange a meeting with Steele elsewhere.[87]
  • House Intelligence Committee is conducting a less robust investigation and Republican members are lukewarm about aggressively pursuing the wide range of questions.[88]
  • House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has an inquiry into whether or not Mike Flynn’s payment for a speech in Russia violated any Department of Defense rules, or laws regarding payments by foreign governments.[89]
  • Senate Judiciary Committee leadership on both the Democratic and Republican side has requested that the committee receive a briefing from the FBI on the events leading up to the departure of Mike Flynn.[90]
  • Intelligence Community investigations are on going, with regard to both Russian interference in the election and financial ties between Trump, Trump Organizations, Trump supporters, but little has been revealed publicly.[91][92]
  • Several federal agencies, including the Intelligence Community (IC) and the Treasury Department are investigating allegations that the Russian government covertly sent money to aid President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign by using a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners.[93].
  • One of the current investigations by the FBI is whether or not Russia has compromising information on Donald Trump.[94]
  • Another FBI investigation is exploring the communication between the Trump campaign and Russia.[95]
  • By the day of Trump's Inauguration a task force had been established involving CIA, FBI, NSA, and other agencies to take an over arching view of all the possible actions and interactions with Russia.[96]