Americans could 'unwittingly' echo Russian propaganda about 2020 election, top Democrat warns

Recent counterintelligence report says Russia is interfering to help Trump over Biden

Griffin Connolly
Washington
Sunday 23 August 2020 20:07
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Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has warned that some Americans may be "unwittingly" promoting Russian propaganda that is intended to interfere with the 2020 US elections.

In an interview with NBC News' "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Mr Warner called for the members of his committee to do a better job publicising the Russian disinformation effort so Americans know to avoid repeating Kremlin-sourced talking points.

Mr Warner highlighted a counterintelligence report from last week that said Russia was meddling in the public discourse surrounding the 2020 election to help Donald Trump against Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

“It’s incumbent on the intelligence community to lay out more of the facts of what we know about that disinformation campaign,” the Virginia Democrat said.

“My fear is there may be Americans that are unwittingly promoting that Russian disinformation campaign, and I think they need to be briefed so they don’t become, frankly, agents in effect of this disinformation campaign,” he said.

The Senate Intelligence panel, which is chaired by GOP Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, released the final volume of its report on Russian election interference efforts in 2016.

That report delivered several damaging statements about Mr Trump's 2016 campaign and the lengths to which his advisers encouraged Russian interference.

Ex-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is serving a seven-year prison term related to financial fraud and corruption, was identified in the Intelligence Committee’s report as a “grave counterintelligence threat” due to his business and political ties to powerful Russia-sympathetic Ukrainians.

Mr Manafort, the president's son Donald Trump Jr, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, all three attended a meeting with a Russian government-linked lawyer in June 2016 where they were promised dirt on the Democratic nominee that year, Hillary Clinton.

And while Mr Trump was solidifying his hold on the GOP nomination in 2016, his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was helping him pursue a deal for a Trump Tower project in Moscow that required the government's permission.

One of the most high-profile ways Russia interfered in the 2020 US election was by hacking Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails and releasing them through WikiLeaks.

The report on former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation from 2017 to 2019 into Russian election subversion revealed how the Russian intelligence agency GRU worked in tandem with WikiLeaks to release the hacked documents shortly before the election.

The report concludes that instead of condemning Russia’s actions, the Trump campaign “sought to maximize the impact of those leaks to aid Trump’s electoral prospects”, a remarkable statement from a panel that includes staunch Trump allies such as senator John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

“Staff on the Trump Campaign sought advance notice about WikiLeaks releases, created messaging strategies to promote and share the materials in anticipation of and following their release, and encouraged further leaks,” the committee writes in its report.

“The Trump Campaign publicly undermined the attribution of the hack-and-leak campaign to Russia and was indifferent to whether it and WikiLeaks were furthering a Russian election interference effort,” the report continues.

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