September 20, 2018

THE MOST USEFUL IDIOT:

The Plot to Subvert an Election: Unraveling the Russia Story So Far :For two years, Americans have tried to absorb the details of the 2016 attack: hacked emails, social media fraud, suspected spies -- and President Trump's claims that it's all a hoax. The Times explores what we know and what it means. (SCOTT SHANE and MARK MAZZETTI, 9/20/18, NY Times)

Consider 10 days in March. On March 15 of that year, Mr. Trump won five primaries, closing in on his party's nomination, and crowed that he had become "the biggest political story anywhere in the world." That same day in Moscow, a veteran hacker named Ivan Yermakov, a Russian military intelligence officer working for a secret outfit called Unit 26165, began probing the computer network of the Democratic National Committee. In St. Petersburg, shift workers posted on Facebook and Twitter at a feverish pace, posing as Americans and following instructions to attack Mrs. Clinton.

On March 21 in Washington, Mr. Trump announced his foreign policy team, a group of fringe figures whose advocacy of warmer relations with Russia ran counter to Republican orthodoxy. Meanwhile, Unit 26165 was poring over the bounty from a separate attack it had just carried out: 50,000 emails stolen from the Clinton campaign's chairman.

On March 24, one of the members the Trump foreign policy team, George Papadopoulos, sat in the cafe of an upscale London hotel with a Russian woman who introduced herself as Mr. Putin's niece and offered to help set up a meeting between the Russian president and Mr. Trump. The woman and the adviser exchanged frequent messages in the weeks that followed. Today, Mr. Padadopoulos is unsure that those messages came from the person he met in the cafe.

The Russian intervention was essentially a hijacking -- of American companies like Facebook and Twitter; of American citizens' feelings about immigration and race; of American journalists eager for scoops, however modest; of the naïve, or perhaps not so naïve, ambitions of Mr. Trump's advisers. The Russian trolls, hackers and agents totaled barely 100, and their task was to steer millions of American voters. They knew it would take a village to sabotage an election.

Russians or suspected Russian agents -- including oligarchs, diplomats, former military officers and shadowy intermediaries -- had dozens of contacts during the campaign with Mr. Trump's associates. They reached out through email, Facebook and Twitter. They sought introductions through trusted business connections of Mr. Trump's, obscure academic institutions, veterans groups and the National Rifle Association.

They met Trump campaign aides in Moscow, London, New York and Louisville, Ky. One claimed the Russians had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton; another Russian, the Trump campaign was told, would deliver it. In May and June alone, the Trump campaign fielded at least four invitations to meet with Russian intermediaries or officials.

In nearly every case, the Trump aides and associates seemed enthusiastic about their exchanges with the Russians. Over months of such probing, it seems that no one alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to the foreign overtures.

Mr. Trump's position on the Russian contacts has evolved over time: first, that there were none; then, that they did not amount to collusion; next, that in any case collusion was not a crime. That is mere semantics -- conspiracy is the technical legal term for abetting the Russians in breaking American laws, such as those outlawing computer hacking and banning foreign assistance to a campaign.

Whether Mr. Trump or any of his associates conspired with the Russians is a central question of the investigation by Mr. Mueller, who has already charged 26 Russians and won convictions or guilty pleas from the former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn; the former campaign chairman, Paul J. Manafort, and his deputy, Rick Gates; and from Mr. Papadopoulos. Mr. Trump's personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, has pleaded guilty in a separate case.

But none of the convictions to date involve conspiracy. There remains an alternative explanation to the collusion theory: that the Trump aides, far from certain their candidate would win, were happy to meet the Russians because they thought it might lead to moneymaking deals after the election. "Black Caviar," read the subject line of an email Mr. Manafort got in July 2016 from his associate in Kiev, Ukraine, hinting at the possibility of new largess from a Russian oligarch with whom they had done business.

Nina L. Khrushcheva, a professor of international affairs at the New School and the great-granddaughter of the Soviet premier Nikita S. Khrushchev, said that what Russia pulled off, through creativity and sheer luck, would have been the envy of Mr. Putin's predecessors: puncturing the American sense of superiority and insisting on Russia's power and place in the world.

"This operation was to show the Americans -- that you bastards are just as screwed up as the rest of us," Professor Khrushcheva said. "Putin fulfilled the dream of every Soviet leader -- to stick it to the United States. I think this will be studied by the K.G.B.'s successors for a very long time."



Posted by at September 20, 2018 4:21 AM

  

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