- US officials told Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont that the Russian government is working to help him win the Democratic nomination for president, The Washington Post reported on Friday.
- The revelation comes after an election-security official told lawmakers in a classified briefing that the Russians are also working to help President Donald Trump get reelected.
- Trump and congressional lawmakers were reportedly informed of Russia’s campaign to help Sanders clinch the Democratic nomination, but the type and scope of the Kremlin’s interference are still unclear.
- “I don’t care, frankly, who [Russian President Vladimir Putin] wants to be president,” Sanders told the Post in a statement. “My message to Putin is clear: stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.”
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US officials told Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont that the Russian government is working to help him win the Democratic nomination for president, The Washington Post reported on Friday.
“I don’t care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president,” Sanders told The Post in a statement. “My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.”
The revelation comes after an election-security official from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence told lawmakers in a classified briefing that the Russians are also working to help President Donald Trump get reelected.
According to The Post, Trump and congressional lawmakers were also informed of Russia’s campaign to help Sanders clinch the Democratic nomination, but the type and scope of the Kremlin’s interference are still unclear.
Sanders also suggested, after he was told of Russia’s work to help his campaign, that the Russian government may be responsible for “some of the ugly stuff on the internet attributed to our campaign.”
In a longer statement his campaign put out after The Post’s story broke, Sanders excoriated Putin as an “autocratic thug who is attempting to destroy democracy and crush dissent in Russia.”
“Let’s be clear, the Russians want to undermine American democracy by dividing us and, unlike the current president, I stand firmly against their efforts, and any other foreign power that wants to interfere in our election,” he said.
But Graham Brookie, the director of the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council, criticised Sanders for suggesting the Russians played a role in the online behaviour of people supporting his campaign.
There is “no evidence in open sources” during this campaign season that Sanders’ online supporters, known as “Bernie Bros,” were “catalyzed by what Sanders suggested could be ‘Russian interference,'” Brookie told The Post.
“Any candidate or public official casually introducing the possibility of Russian influence without providing any evidence or context creates a specter of interference that makes responding to real interference harder,” Brookie added.
Friday’s report comes as Sanders surges to the top of the pack in the Democratic primary. He tied for first place in the Iowa caucuses with former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and won the popular vote in the state.
The Vermont senator also won first place in the New Hampshire primary, and he is widely expected to emerge victorious in Saturday’s Nevada caucuses.
Shortly after The Post’s story was published, Sanders told reporters he learned of Russia’s efforts to assist his campaign about a month ago. He suggested that there was some linkage between the news coming out on Friday and the Nevada caucuses, which are on Saturday.
“Washington Post? Good friends,” he added sarcastically, according to CNN.
‘Dezinformatsiya’ and Russian active measures once again take centre stage
US officials have long expected, and are preparing for, Russia’s interference in the 2020 election, particularly after the Kremlin waged an elaborate and multifaceted interference campaign in 2016 to propel Trump to the Oval Office.
The president has so far either refused to acknowledge Russia’s meddling or offered a lukewarm condemnation.
Earlier this week, Trump decided to replace Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, with a hardline loyalist after Maguire authorised his aide to brief Congress about Russia’s efforts to help Trump win the 2020 election.
After the classified briefing, Trump brought Maguire into the Oval Office for a “dressing down,” The Post reported.
The president also had been led to falsely believe that Shelby Pierson, the aide who briefed Congress, had been disloyal by feeding exclusive information about Russia’s 2020 election interference to Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Though intelligence officials told Sanders Russia is working to help him win the Democratic nomination, they found that overall, the Russian government has “developed a preference” for Trump to win the national election in November, a finding that has infuriated the president, who believes that acknowledging Russian election meddling would undermine the strength of his 2016 victory and 2020 campaign.
That said, even though Trump was the Kremlin’s preferred candidate in the 2016 race – and, it appears, in the 2020 race – Russia’s overarching goal is to sow discord on both sides of the political aisle.
Indeed, the special counsel Robert Mueller’s office indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities in 2018 for running a sophisticated social-media disinformation campaign to inflame political tensions among both Democrats and Republicans in the run-up to the 2016 election.
The Russians weaponised social media to organise political rallies, both in support of and against certain candidates, according to the indictment. Though the Russians organised some rallies in opposition to Trump’s candidacy, most were supportive.
From his research about a Russian troll farm called the Internet Research Agency, the journalist Adrian Chen discovered that Russian internet trolls – paid by the Kremlin to spread false information on the internet – were behind numerous “highly coordinated campaigns” to deceive the American public during the 2016 election.
It’s a brand of information warfare, known as “dezinformatsiya,” that has been used by Russia since at least the Cold War. The disinformation campaigns, according to Michael Weiss, a senior editor at The Daily Beast who also edits the Russia-focused journal The Interpreter, are only one “active measure” tool used by Russian intelligence to “sow discord among” and within allies perceived as hostile to Russia.
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