President Trump said Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke privately for over an hour today, but Putin received no warning after the special counsel’s report found that “the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in a sweeping and systematic fashion.”
In a pair of midday tweets, Trump said he and Putin had a “long and very good conversation” in a phone call that lasted over an hour.
Had a long and very good conversation with President Putin of Russia. As I have always said, long before the Witch Hunt started, getting along with Russia, China, and everyone is a good thing, not a bad thing….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2019
….We discussed Trade, Venezuela, Ukraine, North Korea, Nuclear Arms Control and even the “Russian Hoax.” Very productive talk!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2019
Trump gave no indication that he warned Putin against Russian interference in the 2020 presidential election, a prospect that has unnerved some of his own top aides, including the recently departed secretary of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen.
To the extent that the findings of the Mueller report figured at all in their conversation, Trump suggested that he dismissed the intense focus on Russian interference as a politically motivated effort by Democrats to discredit his victory in 2016.
In fact, Mueller’s report into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign spelled out in elaborate detail a sophisticated, Kremlin-led operation to sow division in the U.S. and upend the election by using cyberattacks and social media as weapons.
The Russian operation was so successful, experts warn, they’ll almost certainly try again.
Mueller’s 448-page report detailed multiple contacts between Russian operatives and Trump associates during the campaign, investigators said they did not find evidence of a criminal conspiracy.
The Mueller report was not the first to warn of Russian meddling.
In January 2017, just two months after Trump was elected, the U.S. intelligence community reported that during the run-up to the election there had been a significant escalation by the Russians to interfere in U.S. domestic politics.
The escalation was made possible by cyber-espionage and cyber-driven covert influence operations, the report said.
A year later, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report affirming intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia interfered with the 2016 elections to help Trump win.
The Russian effort, senators concluded, represented an escalation in their ongoing attempts to attack U.S. democracy.
“Russian efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations,” the report said.
During the 2016 election, Russia employed tactics it has been using closer to home to sow discord among its democratic neighbors in the Balkans and to expand its influence.
Before Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, for example, it had launched a cyber campaign in eastern Europe. Russia flooded news web sites in Ukraine with tens of thousands of comments during unrest there, according to a report by the non-profit Rand Corp.
In the United States, the Russians bought $100,000 Facebook ads and bombarded Twitter accounts that boosted Trump and disparaged the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton. The Russians unleashed another weapon in their unconventional arsenal: cyber espionage, stealing emails and disseminating them to embarrass Democrats.
The Russian aim, according to Mueller’s report, was helping elect Trump because of a belief that it would benefit Moscow’s interests.
Regardless, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” the report concluded.
The Russian campaign actually began in 2014, according to the Mueller report, when the Internet Research Agency mimicked Americans on social media.
“Using fictitious U.S. personas, IRA employees operated social media accounts and group pages designed to attract U.S. audiences,” the report says. “By early to mid-2016, IRA operations included supporting the Trump Campaign and disparaging candidate Hillary Clinton.”
The report cited an anti-Clinton ad from March 2016 with a caption that read in part, “If one day God lets this liar enter the White House as a president – that day would be a real national tragedy.”
The operations seized on social divisions and showed a clear bias toward Trump, said Young Mie Kim, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison whose research analyzed 3,500 Facebook ads bought by Russia and released last year by the House Intelligence Committee.
“If the goal was to simply sow the division, then you should see voter suppression targeting likely Trump voters,” Kim said. “We found ZERO voter suppression targeting likely Trump voters.”