Monday, October 19, 2020

The ongoing Russian disinformation campaign

Heather Cox Richardson (Letters from an American) in her post October 18, 2020 (Sunday) alerts us to the ongoing Russian disinformation campaign. Unfortunately, American GOP law-makers are complicit.

Last Wednesday morning, October 14, the tabloid New York Post ran a complicated and unbelievable story about Hunter Biden dropping off three laptops at a repair store and never going back for them, the FBI subpoenaing hard drives, and the repair shop owner making copies before turning them over and then giving the copies to Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who gave them to the New York Post. Allegedly, the material on the laptops was incriminating.

The story was pretty transparently bogus from the start, especially since Giuliani has been hanging around with Andrii Derkach, a Ukrainian lawmaker who, according to the Treasury Department, is a longtime Russian agent. According to the Treasury, Derkach has been working to promote “false and unsubstantiated narratives concerning U.S. officials in the upcoming 2020 election.” Giuliani was an eager listener.

Today, Katie Robertson at the New York Times reported that the New York Post article was so suspect that its lead author refused to put his name on it. The two main sources for the story were Stephen Bannon, Trump’s former advisor who is under federal indictment for fraud, and Giuliani. Giuliani said he took the story to the Post because “either nobody else would take it, or if they took it, they would spend all the time they could to try to contradict it before they put it out.” One woman whose name finally appeared on the story is a former associate producer for Sean Hannity’s show and has been at the newspaper only since April. The other did not work on the story and only discovered her name was on it after it was published. The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have all said they could not verify the story.

The startling new “revelations” about Hunter Biden mirror classic disinformation campaigns in Russia, and look a great deal like the last-minute “revelations” about Hillary Clinton’s emails “discovered” on a laptop in Fall 2016, all of which later came to nothing. Former CIA officer Evan McMullin tweeted: “For weeks, there’s been awareness in intel circles of Russian plans to return (with Trump) to their bogus Biden-Burisma narrative and, as I’ve warned, their plan to expand that to include bonkers pedophilia and human trafficking allegations against the Bidens. Don’t fall for it!”

And yet, certain Republican lawmakers are running with the story. Republican Representative Lee Zeldin of New York tweeted that “Joe Needs to answer some questions ASAP about this dirty $ setup.” Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) went onto the Fox News Channel to suggest that the computer at the center of this story, allegedly belonging to Hunter Biden, had child pornography on it. This prompted intelligence specialist Malcolm Nance to tweet: “Whoa. The Republicans tried to tie Hunter Biden to child pornography. This is a 100% FSB [Russian Intelligence Agency] tactic. The FSB ALWAYS claims/plants Child porn on their opponents.”

For at least a year now, intelligence officers have warned us that Russia is interfering in this election, trying to swing it to Trump. Despite the fact that Trump’s polling numbers are abysmal, our Electoral College system means that the swing of relatively few voters in key states could enable him to eke out a victory, just as he did in 2016. It is worth remembering that Trump’s plan in 2020 has never been to win a majority; it has been to win by gaming the system. It seems to me also worth remembering that Trump has consistently refused either to criticize Russia or to acknowledge that Putin’s agents are working to help him get reelected.

While many Trump campaign officials are already trying to blame each other for their candidate’s apparent weakness, Trump and his loyalists remain adamant that he is going to win. They are allegedly taking names of those whom he considers insufficiently supportive. He is mad at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has rejected the president’s plans for a coronavirus relief bill and who publicly criticized the White House approach to the pandemic. He has gone after Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) for her coolness toward Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, and Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) for his condemnation of the president in a phone call with constituents. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), who has made his dislike for Trump clear in recent statements, is also on the outs.

Tim Murtaugh, communications director for the Trump campaign, says, “President Trump won in 2016 without the vocal support of the political insider crowd, and he’s going to do it again. The President enjoys the support of over 90 percent of Republicans….”

It is certainly possible that the Trump campaign is putting a brave face on the terrible polls, but the ham-handed attempt to dump disinformation about the Bidens is an excellent reminder that foreign operatives have been trying to influence our elections since 2016, and they have not gone away.

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