Rubio: Russian hackers also targeted my election staff

Surprise, surpriseor not. During testimony on Capitol Hill today, a cybersecurity expert testified that hackers attempted to breach a number of campaigns in the 2016 cycle, including Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign staffers — twice. The first attempt took place after he had withdrawn from the Republican presidential primary and launched his Senate re-election bid, and the second attempt took place yesterday:

Russian interference with American politics did not stop after the election, and prominent Republicans — including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Marco Rubio — have been targeted by coordinated social media attacks, cybersecurity experts told a Senate panel Thursday.

Rubio — a former primary opponent of President Donald Trump — announced at a Senate intelligence committee hearing on Russian meddling that during last year’s election his former campaign staff was targeted by hackers twice.

Rubio said the attacks came from computers using IP addresses located in Russia — once in July of last year, after he announced he would run again for the Senate and again, Wednesday morning. IP addresses do not necessarily confirm who conducted hacking, as it is relatively easy for hackers to mask their location.

“Former members of my presidential campaign team who had access to the internal information of my presidential campaign were targeted by IP addresses with an unknown location within Russia,” Rubio said Thursday. “That effort was unsuccessful. I would also inform the committee within the last 24 hours, at 10:45 a.m. yesterday, a second attempt was made, again, against former members of my presidential campaign team who had access to our internal information — again targeted from an IP address from an unknown location in Russia. And that effort was also unsuccessful.”

CNN’s chyron described this as a surprise to Rubio, although he appears to have been briefed on the security issue. The “surprise” in this case may be an insinuation that such activity harmed Rubio “anecdotally” while he was still in the presidential primary:

Curiously, Manu Raju also reported that Paul Ryan may have been targeted as well — not during his primary challenge from Paul Nehlen, but over the past week or so while pushing the American Health Care Act (AHCA). National security expert Clint Watts had described the efforts by Russian-based provocateurs as not just hacking but also a propaganda campaign intended to undermine confidence in the political system. Republicans hardly needed help with that on the AHCA, as they seemed unprepared from the start to agree on a unified approach to repealing and replacing ObamaCare.

If that’s the case, though, it undermines the argument that Russia is providing interference for Donald Trump. Let’s take the AHCA case first. Trump wrapped his arms around this plan from the beginning, going so far as to personally call conservative House Republicans to cajole them into backing the bill. Mark Sanford told the Post & Courier that OMB director Mick Mulvaney went so far as to pass along a threat from Trump to find a primary challenger in South Carolina to defeat Sanford next year.

“‘The president asked me to look you square in the eyes and to say that he hoped that you voted ‘no’ on this bill so he could run (a primary challenger) against you in 2018,'” Sanford said Mulvaney told him. …

“I’ve never had anyone, over my time in politics, put it to me as directly as that,” Sanford said, perhaps understating just how monumental it is for a sitting president to openly go after members of his own party.

Indeed. That makes it look like the Russian provocations were designed to work against Trump. In regard to Rubio, there wouldn’t be much value to Trump in hacking Rubio after he had already filed to jump back into the Senate race. In fact, the value to Trump was in holding onto that Senate seat against Democrat Patrick Murphy, who looked ready to take it from the GOP until Rubio re-entered the race. Rubio would have made a tasty target for the Russians on his own hawkish merits — and that would explain why they’re still attempting to exploit his staffers as he’s been preparing to look into this very issue.

The general impression thus far in the Russian-hacking episode is not that Trump was the intended beneficiary, but that Russia wanted to stir up as much confusion and discord as possible while gaining as much intel as they could along the way. They certainly achieved the former, and if Rubio’s testimony is any indication, they’re still trying on both fronts.

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