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We Know Russia Interfered in the 2016 Election. Will Anything Be Done to Stop It in 2020?
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=50451"><span class="small">Luke Barnes and Josh Israel, ThinkProgress</span></a>   
Wednesday, 27 March 2019 08:29

Barnes writes: "Perhaps the most important takeaway from special counsel Robert Mueller's nearly two-year investigation, which came to a close this past weekend, is that Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 election."

William Barr. (photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
William Barr. (photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

We Know Russia Interfered in the 2016 Election. Will Anything Be Done to Stop It in 2020?

By Luke Barnes and Josh Israel, ThinkProgress

27 March 19

Attorney General William Barr confirmed Russia's efforts in his Mueller investigation summary this week. So far, little is being done to prevent a repeat.

erhaps the most important takeaway from special counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation, which came to a close this past weekend, is that Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 election.

Despite this, neither the Trump administration nor Senate Republicans, who have wielded control since 2016, appear to have a plan to prevent more of the same in 2020.

According to Attorney General William Barr’s summary of Mueller’s findings, delivered to Congress on Sunday, the investigation concluded there were “two main Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election.”

Those efforts included attempts by Russia’s Internet Research Agency to “conduct disinformation and social media operations” to “sow social discord, eventually with the aim of interfering with the election,” and “hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the elections.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed Monday that the Trump administration had been actively engaged in trying to keep future elections safe.

“Not too long ago, we had a number of senior administration officials come to the briefing room and walk through, in detail, how we’re taking a ‘whole of government’ approach,” she said. “[The Defense Department, Homeland Security, Justice Department, and the intelligence community are] working to make sure what happened in 2016 doesn’t continue to happen, and we’re looking and working with all of the state and local officials and making sure that we do everything we can to try to prevent this.”

It’s unclear how active the White House has been in leading this effort. President Donald Trump himself has been hesitant to acknowledge Russia interfered in the 2016 election, resisting the conclusions of own intelligence officials and saying he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin, who told Trump his country was not behind the election meddling.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who blocked a bipartisan effort to warn the public about ongoing Russian meddling in 2016, acknowledged in remarks on Monday that Russia was the guilty party. “I look forward, as well, to the continuing parallel work of our Senate colleagues on the Select Committee on Intelligence to study the threats that foreign interference pose to our institutions,” he said.

McConnell’s office did not respond to inquiries about whether Republicans would put forward a plan to prevent future meddling.

ThinkProgress also reached out to the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as other relevant committees, to ask about any potential plans to secure future elections. Most did not respond.

A spokesperson for Intelligence Chair Richard Burr (R-NC) pointed to a May 2018 unclassified committee report that included recommendations but no legislation.

Elections in the United States are governed by some federal laws, but are mostly the purview of state and local governments. As a result, elections are carried out and administered in hundreds of different ways.

After the 2000 presidential election exposed problems with some of the ballots and machines in Florida, Congress enacted the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA).  That law provided billions of dollars to help states modernize voting equipment and established a federal agency to assist states and localities.

Last year, Congress included $380 million in its budget deal for new HAVA money to help states secure their elections. Ben Hovland, vice chair of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, told ThinkProgress that the money had been invaluable in helping upgrade voter machines and cybersecurity. But in order to truly safeguard future elections, more was needed.

“We’ve seen some people replace voting machines, cyber security programs, cyber navigating programs,” Hovland said. “[But] we’re hearing a lot of states would like to do more — $380 million was enough to do some, but not all. So I think there’s room for additional funding.”

Illinois, whose statewide voter registration lists were actually breached in 2016 by the Russian hacking, used the bulk of the more than $13 million it received from that pool to shore up its cybersecurity efforts. The Illinois Cyber Navigator Program works to ensure that all 108 local election authorities in the state have adequate cybersecurity procedures and resources, especially the smaller communities that cannot afford massive IT staffs.

“It was adequate to help get things moving for 2020,” Matt Dietrich, spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Elections, told ThinkProgress. But to really fix things, he explained, they’ll need to replace the voting equipment statewide again.

“Now the equipment is getting old, breaking down… the newest equipment has a lot of technical enhancements that weren’t around in 2004,” he said. “It’s gonna cost $175 million to replace them, we estimate. Is that gonna be forthcoming? We just don’t know.”

There’s also the question of where 2020 election interference might come from. During the 2016 election, the bulk of the misinformation came from Russia, although there were some outlier cases like the Macedonian teenagers who created fake news for cash. But Russia’s success did not go unnoticed by other nations.

On Tuesday, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) told MSNBC that he “fully expect[ed] the Chinese to become involved [in future election meddling], if they haven’t already.” Facebook also announced the same day that it had removed a series of accounts from Russia, Iran, Macedonia, and Kosovo for “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

When asked how to remedy any future election issues, Kennedy pointed to the $380 million in HAVA funding from last year and suggested securing elections should be left up to the states.

Regardless of where threats originate, experts who spoke to ThinkProgress agreed that electoral interference was still a major problem, partly because of social media inaction, but also because of the lack of a unified U.S. response.

“We do need to give [social media companies] more guidance because they’re not doing a very good job of enforcing their own guidelines,” Nina Jankowicz, an expert on Russia and electoral security at the Wilson Center, told ThinkProgress. “In Ukraine, Facebook didn’t put in ad restrictions until March 18 — less than two weeks before an election. We’ve seen them over and over again not do their due diligence. This is a huge problem, but they’re a multi-billion dollar company and need to try harder.”

While the nature of the threat is constantly evolving, Jankowicz noted that Russia was consistently exploiting Facebook loopholes in Ukraine, in order to continue running highly-politicized ads. She also noted that, in the United States, a lack of overarching governmental response had made any sort of attempt to crack down on disinformation extremely difficult.

“There’s no recognition of the threat at the highest levels of government,” Jankowicz said. “When you have an embattled institution that’s only one of several working on a problem, the larger government doesn’t recognize that’s a recipe for ineffectiveness. The best strategy is one coordinated at the highest levels.”

Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, noted that, while social media companies have made some effort to crack down on disinformation, the broad push for greater education around this topic that countries like Lithuania, Estonia, and Finland — which regularly experience Russian interference — have implemented with great effect was not present in the United States.

He also emphasized how corrosive the nature of election interference could be, especially in today’s hyper-polarized environment.

“[Election interference] is often very divisive and is it is meant to undermine faith in democratic institutions,” Norden told ThinkProgress. “We saw that in 2016 — a lot of people felt that election wasn’t legitimate because of the interference and the more you have that, particularly in close elections, the more you have people questioning the system that has served us well for centuries… The more intrusions there are, the more our adversaries can undermine people’s confidence in the system.”

Jankowicz agrees.

“We should be leading on this. Under any other administration this would be at top of agenda, which is clear by a bipartisan interest in this on the Hill,” she said.

“U.S. leadership in a community of democracies is at stake here,” she added.

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A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+8 # elizabethblock 2019-03-27 10:33
How about Republicans preventing people from voting? More dangerous, I think, than anything the Russians can do.
-5 # longingfortruth 2019-03-27 13:14
Republican voter suppression is dangerous to our democracy but please do not use it to dismiss what Russia, an adversary, did and is doing. This is what Pearl Harbor looks like in the 21st century. Why isn't this administration defending us?
Franklin Graham went to Russia this month with Pence's blessing and met with a sanctioned oligarch for the stated purpose of improving relations with congress. It is clear to me that the Russians see the 2020 congressional elections as the path to sanctions relief and this was the 2020 version of the Trump Tower meeting. White evangelicals want a Putin style government with a state religion and plenty of gay demonizing and repression of women and minorities.
+3 # Harvard72 2019-03-27 10:41
Just by the way:

On Monday morning, Rush Limbaugh stated that the Mueller Report concluded that there was no Russian interference in the 2016 election. That's right--although there was nothing like that concluded, even in Barr's truncated summary, Rush told his very intelligent listeners that it was definitively determined that the Russians did not interfere in the election. AND this is why we are in the mess of two separate camps--when clear unequivocal falsehoods are passed off as truth.
+3 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-03-28 06:47
Rush Limbaugh simply lied. The Mueller report and Barr's summary both conclude that the Russian interference was real. They only said that Trump had no part of it.

Mueller still has two indictments against 23 Russian individuals and 1 company. One more company is now in court. Both of these indictments claim Russian involvement in the US election.

I have no idea what will happen to these indictments. The case now in court against Concord Management is not going well for Mueller. They don't want the trial to start. They have asked for three postponements, the last of which was for an "indefinite" postponement. So the trial may actually never begin. The problem is Mueller's lawyers are refusing to present to the court or show to the defense the evidence they say they have. The judge is saying, no evidence, no trial.

Limbaugh is just like the rest of the media blowhards. He spins the news for his audience. Rachel Maddow does the same things. Why listen to these people. It is already hard enough trying to find reliable information.

We'll have to see Mueller's full report to understand more about his claims of Russian interference. I hope it is released.
+3 # Anne Frank 2019-03-27 12:02
Sore losers continue to beat the dead horse for the deep state, but say nothing at all about the foreign country that really does control U.S., European, and Latin American elections.
+3 # Ruth1940 2019-03-27 12:10
Nothing proven that Russia did was different from what all countries' intelligence agencies do all the time. Most Democrats appear to have a very short memory, as everyone should be skeptical of public American intelligence reports after most were mislead about WMDs in Iraq, when the actual intelligence was not faulty. Those members of Congress who actually took time to read the 92-page classified document knew it did not justify war, so voted no in 2002! Those whose campaigns were heavily financed by fossil fuel and military industries didn't bother, as they like war because they make more money at the expense of most of the public. Former intelligence agents debunked this one too: ate
+5 # Moxa 2019-03-27 12:53
Hey, RSN, Marc Ash, drop it, already! It was conspiracy theory from the beginning, to save the Democrats from their own culpability in the 2016 elections. It is like the WMD's of yesteryear. Whatever the Russians may have done was insignificant at most, especially compared to what the Israelis have done to affect our politics, not to mention the Republicans AND the Democrats--they stole the election from Bernie Sanders, remember? Oh yes, we forgot that because all we could think about was that the emails were hacked, not what was IN the emails.

The DNC has hijacked the media conversation for over two years into this total fabrication of no significance, and now, discredited, they still can't let it go. In so doing they have given the biggest possible gift to Trump, who is now vindicated as having been right all along: No collusion.
As for the Russians, a few thousand dollars worth of Facebook ads didn't bring down a billion something dollar presidential campaign.

Enough with the nonsense. If the Democrats had supported Bernie Sanders, he'd be president NOW.
+5 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-03-27 13:57
This article is simply wrong. We DO NOT know that the Russians interfered with the 2016 election. The fact is even stronger than that. Russia DID NOT interfere with the election.

1. The Petersburg Internet Research Agency posted some click bait ads on social media. It was doing this well before 2016 and it continues to do it to this day. If you know how click bait works, you know that people will click something the find interesting so internet advertisers post subjects of interest. This included a few ads relevant to the US election but most were just of general interest. To call this "interference" is just ludicrous. Mueller has made this allegation but he can't prove it.

2. DNC and Podesta emails. These were not hacked but rather leaked by an insider who could download them directly from the DNC server. Podesta also used the DNC server. Mueller has made the allegation that Russians hacked the DNC server but he relies 100% on CrowdStrike information.

It is really bad to advocate for laws that resolve a problem that does not exist. US elections are beset with many problems but they are all domestic and are the result of the two major parties rigging elections and gerrymandering districts. The problems are not foreign.

Good legislation can only come from honest analysis. The Russiagate hoax has thrown honest analysis to the wind.
+4 # Dale 2019-03-27 14:45
Russia Gate is Democrat´s BS. Aligned with H.Clinton, the elites of the Democratic Party needed to change the subject from her impeding loss. Clear assessments of the national ticket’s failures were hazardous to the status quo within the party. So were the groundswells of opposition to unfair economic privilege. So were the grass-roots pressures for the party to become a genuine force for challenging big banks, Wall Street and overall corporate power. Charges of Russian interference in our elections totally ignored that the U.S. intervenes throughout the world through regime change, threats and bullying, and war.

In short, the Democratic Party’s anti-Bernie establishment needed to reframe the discourse in a hurry. And—in tandem with mass media—it did. BLAME RUSSIA.
The moguls that own U.S. media and both major political parties (the radically regressive and reactionary Republicans and the dismal dollar Democrats) doesn’t score well on Looking at U.S. policies of regime change. That helps make Trump the Russian Colluder a much more attractive story for media elites than Trump the Plutocrat, Trump the Racist, Trump the Militarist, Trump the Sexist, Trump the Nativist, Trump the Enemy of the Poor and Trump the Wrecker of Livable Ecology.
0 # tedrey 2019-03-27 16:33
To put it more bluntly, this "Russian" investigation was the only one of the available distractions to give the American public that would not quickly implicate a large number of American individuals who profit from manipulating and controlling the nation's political, military, and economic systems.

Making it about Russia was safe; a knee-jerk reaction to all things Russian has long been instilled into the U. S. body politic.
+1 # lfeuille 2019-03-27 22:16
The only thing we really know is that a Russian troll farm was among the many trolling activities from around the world that made pathetic and ridiculous attempts at influencing the election. We also know that Republican suppressed more votes than Trump's margin of victory. That is where 2020 efforts should be focused.
+1 # PABLO DIABLO 2019-03-29 15:10
Paper ballots.