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Russians and US Elections

Russians and US elections
(Flickr/Andy G) Russian Dolls

Did the Russians interfere in US elections?

On Thursday, Donald Trump Jr. offered a version of a meeting that he held with some Russians before the elections. He admitted he took the meeting to get information on candidate Hillary Clinton.

To some extent, it’s not surprising that Russia tried to influence US elections. A friendly US president would be useful for Russia strategically.

Indeed, a US president’s decisions have global consequences.  Hence it has been suggested that the entire world should vote in the US presidential race.

However, there is a difference between people voting openly, and governments influencing elections covertly.  When US individuals help foreigners to interfere in US elections, it may be illegal.

Even though Donald Trump himself is loath to agree, most US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia “meddled” in the 2016 US election.  We may never have proof of actual Russian governmental involvement. What we do know is that some Russians met in June 2016 with Trump campaign aides, including Donald Trump Jr.

Russians and Junior Trump

It may well be that the Donald Trump Jr. meeting with the Russians was completely kosher. The Russians he met with were not formally connected to the Russian government.

Indeed, one set of notes from the meeting indicate no legal danger to the Trumps.  But there are still troubling questions.

For one, it appears as if the reasons for the meeting between the junior Trump and the Russians keeps changing.  Initially, he tried to deny a meeting took place.

When a July New York Times story detailed the meeting, Trump Jr., said it was about adoptions of Russian children. Later, he admitted it was about finding “dirt” on Clinton to determine her fitness for office.

Trump Jr. appears to think that since the Russians did not provide any “dirt,” there was no legal issue. However, other lawyers disagree.

Another facet of the story relates to potential legal danger for the senior Trump. Reportedly, President Trump was involved in defending the initial rationale of the meeting about adoption.  Trump’s involvement may be of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller is already investigating the Trump campaign for any potential collusion with Russia.

Russians and US Elections: Implications

There may well have been no actual collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. But the lack of consequences for either party in even attempting collaboration bring up disturbing implications.

Foreign governments may muster all potential resources to influence US elections.  Given the lack of public funding for US elections, money is an obvious vehicle for such foreign influence.  Of course, they may have to launder the sources. That should not be too difficult.

Campaigns normally only must worry about domestic opposition research and leaks to media. Now, as Democrats found in the 2016 elections, they may be subject to sophisticated foreign intelligence penetration.

Further, unscrupulous candidates might be willing to entertain foreign sources of “dirt” on their opponents.  Such candidates would be encouraged to do so if there are no traces and consequences.

Elections in 2018 and 2020 will tell us if candidates and foreign governments have drawn lessons from the 2016 elections.