Opinion by Rep. Chris Stewart: The real reasons for Russian electoral meddling

OPINION – Did Russian intelligence officials attempt to interfere in our election? Almost certainly they did. Did they attempt to tip the scales in favor of Donald Trump. Very clearly, they did not. 

Several outlets reported last weekend that the CIA recently told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia interfered in the U.S. elections for the purpose of helping to elect Donald Trump.  To quote from one report: “‘It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,’ said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. ‘That’s the consensus view.'” 

As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I can say unequivocally that is not what CIA or other intelligence officials have concluded.

The Post reporting was based on an anonymous official who claimed to be familiar with the CIA report. Whether this source was confused or deliberately misleading is less important than the fact that the current media uproar advances Vladimir Putin’s goal to sow chaos and distrust in our electoral system.  

It’s important to note this isn’t the first time Russia has attempted to disrupt elections with misinformation and deception. Such tactics are straight from the Soviet playbook, only updated to include new and better tactics courtesy of social media. In fact, Russian meddling in European politics is so common that it is almost old news.

It is well accepted that Russia supports, and directly funds, parties and causes that Putin believes will create disunity among our allies. And why does he do this? Because he knows it gives him an upper hand in dealing with the EU (or European Union), NATO, and their member states. For example, just this summer, as Sweden debated whether to join a military partnership with NATO, anti-NATO rumors swirled on social media. And the rumors were compelling: the agreement would require Sweden to stockpile nuclear weapons; NATO soldiers could rape without fear of prosecution; Sweden could be forced to host NATO forces for a surprise attack on Russia. But though compelling, these rumors were also completely false. Intelligence officials now believed that Russia—opposed to NATO expansion—was behind the misinformation.

This example is worth noting for, as we witnessed here in the United States, Russia’s interference wasn’t used to choose one candidate over another but to create uncertainty and doubt.

Besides being unsupported by the intelligence analysis, to suggest that Putin was trying to elect Trump also reflects a naive view of Russian strategy and tactics.  While Russian President Vladimir Putin — a KGB thug — isn’t beneath influencing elections, he is almost certainly seeking a more predictable outcome from his covert activities. So while predicting which candidate will ultimately prove more favorable for Russian interests is fraught with uncertainty, undermining voters’ confidence in the integrity of the election is a sure bet.

And even if Putin did favor one candidate, I’m skeptical that he would prefer Trump. After all, it was President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who were repeatedly outplayed and embarrassed by Putin on Ukraine, Syria, and the Baltics. At the very least, Putin’s preference would seem debatable.

We should also wonder why we were able to identify Russia as the culprit, despite the fact that Russian hackers are exceptionally careful to evade detection. Knowing this, such a brazen attempt by Russia to influence the U.S. election seems ham-handed … unless Putin wants Americans to think a foreign power is manipulating our election. 

Western Democracies have to depend on electoral legitimacy to survive and to govern, making us uniquely vulnerable to a well-managed misinformation campaign. Knowing this is true, let’s not play into Russia’s hands with unsubstantiated reports of an adversarial government determining the outcome of our election. The facts are concerning enough. We don’t need to exaggerate to know we have a challenge in countering Russian interference in democratic processes not only here at home, but throughout the world.

Relevant Congressional committees have already started holding hearings to understand the extent of the problem and to map out a plan to counter Russian interference. Americans deserve our best efforts. But this effort must be based on facts and our best analysis, not anonymous contacts and innuendo. 

Submitted by U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah. This opinion editorial was first published in The Washington Examiner. Republished with permission from Stewart.

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12 Comments

  • outsider_100@hotmail.com December 15, 2016 at 11:01 am

    Rep. Stewart is certainly entitled to his opinion, but I would have to point out that the CIA has not yet briefed Congress on these findings, as of 12/15/2016. I think it is premature to form a conclusion, since all we have to go on is speculation and anonymous sources…….
    He provides a valuable historical perspective on the mis-information skills of the Russians, and their willingness to go after European Union and NATO member states.
    Extracting and facilitating the publication of confidential e-mail messages, such as the DNC’s and Podesta’s, were revealing, but it is unclear if they actually swayed undecided voters.

  • Chris December 15, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    “As a member of the House Intelligence Committee,” shouldn’t you be keeping your mouth shut about what the CIA said or concluded? Their briefings to your committee are highly classified, are they not? I swear, Utah’s entire congressional delegation is dumber than a bag of rocks.

  • comments December 15, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    Maybe Putin and Russia can help us cleanse the corruption and filth from our own political system–maybe starting with our own Rep. Chris Stewart. God bless mother russia, lol.

  • wilbur December 15, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    Russian hacking is far less dangerous to our elections than the hard-left, DNC/MSM/ academia cabal of “corrupt, but we’re winning at any cost, no matter what” types.

  • Henry December 15, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    Rep Stewart, you’re correct that Russians/Soviets have attempted to influence politics in the U.S. and Europe for decades. Almost all countries have also tried to influence other country’s elections, including the U.S. (remember Chile in the 1970s and Israel in 2014?).

    However, you failed to make a critical distinction: these previous attempts to disrupt elections have involved FABRICATIONs of information and claims. In the current situation, these unsubstantiated, anonymous claims of Russian hacking of our election involved ACTUAL EMAILs of Democratic officials that show their corruption and collusion.

    The Russians did not force Democrats to write these incriminating emails, nor did they coerce Hillary Clinton to set up a private server, nor did they alter vote counts.

    What WE DO KNOW is that some unidentified source hacked Democratic officials emails, which gave Americans the rare opportunity to peak behind the curtain to see the dishonest things that Democratic officials do when they think no one is watching.

    • Chris December 16, 2016 at 2:57 pm

      There has been no authentication of the supposed emails released by Wikileaks, and apparently obtained from the Russians. You have no proof whatsoever, and no one else has produced any, that these are authentic DNC emails. We have only claims made by Wikileaks with nothing verified as having originated from the DNC.

      • Henry December 16, 2016 at 5:00 pm

        None of the Democrats have disputed the authenticity of the emails released by WikiLeaks. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, head of the DNC, resigned because them. Donna Brazille, CNN contributor, was admonished by CNN because of them.

  • Paul December 16, 2016 at 12:38 am

    I see there are some rather misinformed comments here. First, it is obvious that nothing Congressman Steward said in his op-ed is classified. So that complaint is a red herring. Second, it is not essential for the intelligence committee to be formally briefed as a full committee for committee members to be aware of what’s going on in the intel community. They get regular access to updates, informal briefings and classified read-files. They also have staffers whose job it is to monitor the intel community and update their bosses on current situations and developments. The comment about Putin “cleansing” the US government is too silly to need a rebuttal. On the next comment, I happen to agree that extreme left agendas (and extreme right ones as well) are (potentially) more dangerous than Russian hacking–but that depends somewhat on what is hacked and how successful it is. As far as the objection that the difference in the current Russian attempt to influence is that it is based on fact, not fabrication is true, but incomplete. It assumes that only the Democrats are corrupt and the Russians exposed that corruption. The objection misses the point that we don’t know whether there wasn’t equally damaging material floating around the Republican side, and the Russian either didn’t bother to dig it out, or they found it but chose not to reveal it because they wanted the Democrats to lose rather than the Republicans. This opens the somewhat scary possibility that the Russians have all kinds of nasty stuff on Trump that they can use to blackmail him into doing what they want. Is that true? Dunno. Is it possible? Yup. But if it is true, the Russians wouldn’t want you to know that anyway, because it would lessen the value of their leverage. All in all, I found Chris Stewart’s analysis a breath of fresh air.

    • Henry December 16, 2016 at 9:54 am

      A very lucid, well stated argument. The only part where I disagree with you is your assumption of “the current Russuan attempt to influence”. The source for this charge is a supposed anonymous source with the CIA, which has been not supported by the ODNI or the FBI.

      • Chris December 16, 2016 at 1:23 pm

        You are not correct. Today’s news indicates that: “FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have backed a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the presidency, according to U.S. officials.” What do you have to say now, Henry?

        • Henry December 16, 2016 at 5:21 pm

          “We see no evidence that hacking by any actor altered the ballot count or any cyber actions that deprived people of voting.” – Jeh Johnson, Director of Homeland Security. The Democrats have not disputed the authenticity of the emails. Three senior members of the Democratic National Committee resigned as a result of the emails.

          Essentially what the Russians are accused of doing is providing truthful, accurate, withheld information. Illegally obtaining information is wrong, but the Russians didn’t make Hillary Clinton’s inner circle corrupt or dishonest; the Clinton machine did it to themselves. Keep trying, Chris.

  • Rex December 17, 2016 at 10:53 am

    “We should also wonder why we were able to identify Russia as the culprit, despite the fact that Russian hackers are exceptionally careful to evade detection. Knowing this, such a brazen attempt by Russia to influence the U.S. election seems ham-handed … unless Putin wants Americans to think a foreign power is manipulating our election.”

    This is an interesting argument. If Putin wanted to influence election covertly he would have been more subtle.

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