McClatchy: Russia probe aiming at Kushner's campaign efforts?

Pretty thin gruel here from McClatchy, but perhaps it’s more of a placeholder report in case it thickens up. Investigators in the “confidential” probe of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence have started looking at the digital operation of the Trump campaign, which was run by Jared Kushner, in part because of the sophisticated nature of the Russian effort on Election Day for its disinformation campaign. It sounds like a juicy story, especially after the jaw-droppingly foolish meeting that Kushner and Donald Trump Jr held with a Kremlin-connected attorney in June 2016, but there’s simply not much here — yet, anyway:

Investigators at the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Justice Department are examining whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation – overseen by Jared Kushner – helped guide Russia’s sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Congressional and Justice Department investigators are focusing on whether Trump’s campaign pointed Russian cyber operatives to certain voting jurisdictions in key states – areas where Trump’s digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton, according to several people familiar with the parallel inquiries. …

By Election Day, an automated Kremlin cyberattack of unprecedented scale and sophistication had delivered critical and phony news about the Democratic presidential nominee to the Twitter and Facebook accounts of millions of voters, many in swing states, even in key precincts.

Russia’s operation used computer commands knowns as “bots” to collect and dramatically heighten the reach of negative or fabricated news about Clinton, including a story in the final days of the campaign accusing her of running a pedophile ring at a Washington pizzeria.

One source familiar with Justice’s criminal probe said investigators doubt Russian operatives controlling the so-called robotic cyber commands that fetched and distributed fake news stories could have independently “known where to specifically target … to which high-impact states and districts in those states.”

It’s an interesting report, but a read through the entire article turns up not one single item of evidence to support it. The premise rests on the idea that the Trump campaign actually had a superior digital operation, an assumption that doesn’t have much evidence to support it either. Democrats spent far more money and effort on digital, but in pursuit of the wrong goals. Team Trump didn’t even take that effort seriously until just before the convention, and had such a deficit of field offices in relation to Hillary Clinton’s campaign that the RNC had to throw even more resources at the gap in September.

it seems unlikely that the relatively small investment they made would have made them so world-class at the game that they could have guided the Russians on this kind of targeted operation. But why would the Russians need Kushner’s help anyway? Sen. Mark Warner asks, “How did they know to go to that level of detail in those kinds of jurisdictions?” Presumably the same way Republicans and Democrats do, or at least can find out — by buying the data or collecting it themselves, or perhaps even stealing it in a hack. That data is hardly confidential, although it’s proprietary in many instances. It might be theoretically possible that they got it from the Trump campaign, but given how little effort went into that kind of granular campaigning by Team Trump, it would be among the less-likely sources of data detailed enough to pull this project off.

Warner also points to Russian targeting of women and African-Americans in Wisconsin and Michigan as proof of their supposedly inexplicable sophistication. “Democrats were too brain dead to realize those states were even in play,” Warner says. Well, it doesn’t take much sophistication to know that those were two key demographics for Democrats no matter what state we’re talking about. That’s Political Demographics 101. As for being brain dead, Warner has a point about the Democrats within Team Hillary, but others within the party were aware of the danger and sending up warning flares. Besides, it was no state secret that Trump was aiming at Rust Belt voters with his trade policies and culture-war rhetoric.

Perhaps it’s worth watching, but this seems unlikely in the extreme to actually pay off. And thus far, it isn’t anything more than a hypothesis that has a significant number of holes.