Two questions off the bat. One: There’s another Democratic debate this coming Tuesday night that may well amount to the last chance to derail Bernie before he’s unstoppable. Are Warren, Biden, and the rest going to take off the gloves and use this against him or are they really going to let this pinko waltz to the nomination untouched? Two: What’s the connection, if any, between this story and the curious story last night about a DNI deputy telling Schiff’s committee — perhaps erroneously — that Russia is once again working to help elect Trump?
Did Democrats leak that story because they knew this scoop about Bernie was coming? That is, did they try to preempt a very bad “Russia’s working for Bernie!” outcry among the public by manufacturing some new “Russia’s working for Trump!” outrage instead? Or was it Trump and his allies who leaked this new story about Sanders for the opposite reason, to try to obscure a new headache-inducing Trump/Russia bombshell?
U.S. officials have told Sen. Bernie Sanders that Russia is attempting to help his presidential campaign as part of an effort to interfere with the Democratic contest, according to people familiar with the matter.
President Trump and lawmakers on Capitol Hill have also been informed about the Russian assistance to the Vermont senator, according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence…
Despite Trump’s skepticism of Russian efforts to damage American democracy, officials in his administration have repeatedly warned that Russia has ongoing plans to interfere in U.S. elections and foster divisions among Americans, part of a strategic goal to undermine U.S. standing in the world. Some analysts believe that the Kremlin’s goal is to cause the maximum disruption within the United States, and it throws the support of its hackers and trolls behind candidates based on that goal, not any particular affinity for the persons running.
Bernie’s out with a statement this afternoon blasting Putin. And Trump too, naturally:
Full Sanders statement on report that Russia is trying to boost his candidacy pic.twitter.com/qao9oKFCha
— Sam Stein (@samstein) February 21, 2020
It got lost in the shuffle of the Trump/Mueller Russiagate saga that consumed the first half of Trump’s presidency but this isn’t the first time the Kremlin has tried to lend Bernie a hand. The indictment filed by Mueller against 13 Russian agents working for Russia’s “Internet Research Agency” claimed that Russian trolls tasked with spamming U.S. social media with propaganda during the last campaign were told to “use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump — we support them).” That makes sense politically since Trump and Sanders each tend towards isolationism, as populists are wont to do. It also makes sense that Russia would want to promote “outsider” candidates whose electoral success would wreak havoc with party establishments, causing bitter splits on the left and right. If their candidate(s) win the election, great; that would mean the U.S. would pose less of an obstacle abroad. If their candidate(s) lose the election, that’s still okay; at least they’d have deepened the political rifts within the U.S. population in the process.
What that means for a Trump vs. Sanders election, who knows. Russia promotes both online, maybe, in order to further embitter the two sides? Promotes Bernie over Trump because you can’t go wrong encouraging socialism in a rival nation whose power you’re looking to sap? Promotes Trump over Bernie because POTUS and his party are more likely to withdraw from NATO than Russia-hating Democrats are, even with Bernie at the helm? I don’t know. At this point, though, it’s not a binary choice. They can promote Sanders in the primary and decide on the general later.
The most noteworthy line in Bernie’s statement is the deeply cynical bit near the end speculating that the Russians may in fact be secretly responsible for his more excitable fans’ habit of abuse online. There’s simply no evidence of that, the Daily Beast reported yesterday. But Sanders keeps repeating the claim whenever he’s asked about the BernieBros’ behavior, a cynically opportunistic way to find a political silver lining in the fact that he’s being aided by Russia. Were you recently insulted by some tankie A-hole with a rose in his Twitter handle? Relax, bro — that’s not a socialist, it’s probably a Russian. But it’s not:
The Daily Beast reached out to experts in tracking disinformation to see if there was any evidence of Russian involvement in the feud between Sanders supporters and the Nevada Culinary Workers Union. None could point to a specific example of Russia-linked personas imitating pro-Bernie personas and attacking members of the Nevada Culinary Workers Union…
Oftentimes, Russian covert operations on social media act as echo chambers for the issues and priorities of overt Russian propaganda outlets like Sputnik and RT. Jessica Brandt, director of research at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which tracks Russian state news trends and disinformation, said Russian outlets haven’t made much of the Nevada union feud [between Bernie fans and the Culinary Union].
“We’ve seen no evidence of that,” she told The Daily Beast, adding that the Alliance’s dashboard for tracking overt Russian propaganda turned up only one story on the Nevada issue.
Trump should try that the next time he’s held to account for something boorish a fan has done. “Probably just Russians posing as a supporter, you know.” See how the media reacts.
He said this at a rally in Nevada today about the Maguire/Pierson story:
Pres. Trump on reports of 2020 Russian meddling:
"They're trying to start a rumor … that Putin wants to make sure I get elected. Doesn’t he want to see who the Democrat's going to be? Wouldn’t he rather have, let's say, Bernie, who honeymooned in Moscow?"pic.twitter.com/RK45Cin8nQ
— Jennifer Franco (@jennfranconews) February 21, 2020
WaPo says he knew about the Russian effort to aid Sanders but he hasn’t said anything about it publicly, which is surprising given how it might benefit him politically. It’s possible, of course, that he held back because he wants to face Bernie in the general election and didn’t want this popping up before Sanders’s nomination is assured. But like I said up top, it could also be that he or his allies decided to leak this now because they wanted to counter the Maguire/Pierson story from yesterday.
Exit question: Coincidence that this is appearing 24 hours before Nevada is set to crown Bernie as presumptive nominee or no? Hmmmm!
Update: Bernie comments. Might not see any “Russia, if you’re listening” press conferences from him on the trial.
Bernie Sanders: “Here is the message to Russia: Stay out of American elections. … That is what they did in 2016 and that is the ugliest thing they are doing, is they are trying to cause chaos, they are trying to cause hatred in America” https://t.co/QNDlQR05Si pic.twitter.com/YY4T1Ey0Et
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 21, 2020