Trump attacked the legitimacy of the US midterms the same way his own officials warned Russia would

President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at their summit in Helsinki, Finland, in July. Chris McGrath/Getty Images
  • Department of Homeland Defence officials warned that Russia would try to interfere with the midterms, and would try to spread doubts that votes were counted correctly to do it.
  • Trump made unfounded accusations of voter fraud in states like Florida without giving evidence.
  • One former intelligence official said: “The president, either wittingly or unwittingly, is playing into the Russians’ hands.”

The Department of Homeland Security warned that Russia would attempt to undermine the midterm elections by spreading doubts that votes were counted correctly – and President Donald Trump has done just that.

Former US intelligence officials are worried that Trump’s repeating of baseless claims that voter fraud occurred in the midterms played into Russia’s own election-meddling playbook.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters during an Election Day briefing in September that the Russians “win if they sow any element of doubt in the mind of an American that their vote wasn’t counted and counted correctly.”

She said, according to VOA News: “That, of course, remains a concern of mine: that after everyone has voted they would try to make a claim that something went wrong.”

Donald Trump
Donald Trump speaks to the media before travelling to Paris in November. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned back in July of Russia’s “persistent and pervasive” effort to undermine American democracy. But some former intelligence officials say that it is Trump is pushing this narrative.

Larry Pfeiffer, a 32-year veteran of the intelligence community and a former chief of staff to former CIA Director Michael Hayden, told American broadcaster VOA News: “The president, either wittingly or unwittingly, is playing into the Russians’ hands. Absolutely.”

Trump’s baseless claims

Trump promoted a theory that Democrats were fabricating votes. “You mean they are just now finding votes in Florida and Georgia – but the Election was on Tuesday? Let’s blame the Russians and demand an immediate apology from President Putin!” Trump tweeted.

Florida was still counting ballots that are mailed in from overseas and military voters, but Trump suggested that they were from a nefarious source and did not want them to be counted.

He tweeted that he was sending “lawyers to expose the FRAUD.”

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He pushed back against recounts in Florida, and said that an “honest vote count is no longer possible” as the ballots were “massively infected.” No Florida state department has reported any evidence of voter fraud or illegal voting as Trump and others have alleged, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it has not launched any investigations into election fraud.

He also questioned ballots in Arizona.

Russian efforts

Experts say that Russia sought to interfere with the midterms by boosting partisan views and promoting divisive posts online – different tactics to those they are accused by intelligence officials of using to help support Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Facebook pulled Instagram and Facebook accounts it believes were linked to Russia’s notorious troll farm and were trying to interfere with the midterms.

Read more:

Over 600,000 Americans followed fake Russia-linked Instagram accounts that were detected days before the midterms

Russia denies interfering in the 2016 election and Trump sparked outrage in July when he didn’t back up the US intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled. Trump later claimed that he had misspoken.

A senior administration official told VOA News that Trump’s administration “continues to counter” Russian efforts to create “a divided and fractious America.”