For months, a scandal of immense proportion has been bubbling below the surface, involving Rudy Giuliani and President Donald Trump trying to pressure Ukraine into opening investigations involving American citizens. In the era when there are new scandals on a weekly basis, this fairly intricate and convoluted plan had largely stayed below the surface of most political conversations in Washington. However, with the recent revelation that this plot may be at the center of the whistleblower complaint that the Trump administration is withholding from Congress, the scandal has boiled over.
America is also not the only target for Russian influence operations; democracies in Europe and around the world are combating Russian election interference. Some of these countries have dealt with this interference better than others, and there are important lessons to be derived from these experiences. With these factors in mind, this report outlines Russian election influence operations and evaluates the responses from stakeholders. It determines the lessons the United States can learn from these democracies, including what works and what does not when confronting Russian interference.
A new brief from the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s Moscow Project shows that, based on public reporting and indictments by special counsel Robert Mueller, there are at least 272 known contacts between Trump’s team and Russia-linked operatives during the campaign and transition, including at least 38 meetings.
Following the Money: Trump and Russia-Linked Transactions From the Campaign to the Presidential Inauguration
At the turn of the 18th century, a newly elected president of the United States—only the second in the nation’s then-brief history—cautioned the American people about “the danger to our liberties if anything partial or extraneous should infect the purity of our free, fair, virtuous, and independent elections.” In particular, John Adams pointed to threats from abroad, warning that if a changed election outcome “can be obtained by foreign nations by flattery or menaces, by fraud or violence, by terror, intrigue, or venality, the Government may not be the choice of the American people, but of foreign nations. It may be foreign nations who govern us, and not we, the people, who govern ourselves.” Speaking before a joint session of Congress, he thus pleaded with the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives to “[preserve] our Constitution from its natural enemies,” including “the profligacy of corruption, and the pestilence of foreign influence, which is the angel of destruction to elective governments.” The threat of foreign influence over our elections did not wane in the intervening 220 years: Today, the United States has a president whose election was aided by the fraud and intrigue of a foreign nation. Americans who watched how President Donald Trump, in the words of the late Sen. John McCain, “abased himself … abjectly before a tyrant” in Helsinki, cannot be faulted for wondering whether John Adams’s long-ago warning has become a reality. Trump’s campaign to win the presidency required money, as did the Kremlin’s campaign to help him. While these two campaigns aligned in their goal—Trump’s victory—overt monetary contributions from Russia would have drawn regulatory scrutiny, not to mention public ire. Any financial support from abroad, therefore, would have had to be creatively obscured.
The Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with the Russian government in the 2016 U.S. presidential election has become the defining scandal of the administration so far. This report lays out the overwhelming evidence of that collusion, exploring its underpinnings going back decades to create a cohesive explanation for how—and why—the Trump campaign and the Kremlin worked together to install Trump in the White House.
On January 6, 2017, the U.S. intelligence community released a declassified assessment to the public confirming what most had already suspected: Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.1 Since the intelligence community released its assessment, the public has learned a great deal about this assault from the special counsel investigation, press reporting, and declassified intelligence. Based on analysis of available material, it has become increasingly clear when, how, and why Russia launched the campaign against American democracy. It is evident that there was a surge of activity intended to influence the American electorate and political institutions that originated in 2014 as a counterresponse to the U.S.-led international isolation of Russia following its intervention in Ukraine.
If Trump seeks to undermine the investigation and obstruct justice by firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, there would be serious concerns about the impartiality of any political official at the U.S. Department of Justice who replaces him. These concerns are heightened by Trump’s repeated demands that the Department of Justice protect him from accountability for his actions. The only way to repair the trust of the American people in the integrity of the investigation would be to follow past precedent and ensure the special counsel is truly independent.
In May 2017, the FBI formally opened a counterintelligence investigation into the President of the United States to determine whether he had been working on behalf of the Russian government, according to The New York Times. The inquiry into the President was formally folded into the Special Counsel’s investigation, and its current status remains unclear. Whether or not the Kremlin is exercising direct influence over an American president, one thing is clear: the actions of the Trump administration have constantly served to advance the foreign policy agenda of the Kremlin.