Showing that there are still some government officials not terrified to appear on the House side of Capitol Hill (looking at you, Chad Wolf), FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday morning. And, despite former Republican House member turned Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe informing his erstwhile colleagues that there would be no more in-person briefings on election security, Wray did have some things to say on that topic. In particular, Wray confirmed the ongoing partnership between the Republican Party and Russia.
As CNN reports, Russia’s efforts in the 2020 campaign have a singular focus—convincing people that Joe Biden isn’t up to the task of being president. It’s an approach that, unsurprisingly, fits perfectly with the tweets coming from Donald Trump and claims coming out of right-wing media. It’s almost as if they’re all batting for Team Putin.
As in 2016, Russia appears to be engaging in a full court press of activities, including “social media, proxies, state media and online journals.” Which means that by now, all your relatives on Facebook have probably wandered across a page speculating about Biden’s “dementia” while playing up the razor sharp mind of Mr. Herd Mentality.
Wray isn’t the first intelligence official to say that Russia is actively undermining Biden and working to interfere with the Democratic campaign. There have been multiple efforts to repeat 2016’s “success” by fishing for access to email servers at various levels. And groups of both human and bot-based trolls are working Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to plant anti-Biden rumors, drive false memes, and spread doctored video.
When it comes to talk of foreign interference, Trump often makes claims that China is the real threat. So far, that threat appears to be more theoretical than real, but in no way do the two threats appear to be equivalent. China would prefer that Trump not get reelected, said officials, not because he’s a tough negotiating partner or standing up for America, but because he’s “too unpredictable.” That’s a feeling that many Americans share.
However, rather than launch an army of Trump trolls and hackers, a la Russia, China has so far restricted itself to “overt efforts” like public criticism of Trump. Meaning that China is doing nothing more than the U.S., and every other nation does, when discussing world leaders.
On the other hand, Russia has pulled out the full Roger Stone collection of dirty tricks, because it genuinely views Biden as a threat to the Putin-friendly team currently installed at the White House. A big part of that reason is: Ukraine.
Donald Trump—and Rudy Giuliani—may be continuing to push claims that Biden did something wrong in Ukraine (with the help of Russian assets) but the real issue for Russia is that Biden actually supported Ukraine. Both Biden and President Obama opposed Russian aggression in Ukraine and pressed for a reduction of corruption. That’s not only encouraged Moscow to take swings at Biden, but, as intelligence official on election security Bill Evanina reported in August, resulted in Russia “seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television.”
The biggest news about Russian interference in 2020 may be that … it doesn’t seem to be news. At this point, it appears that the media has largely tired of reporting on the extensive connections between Donald Trump, his campaign, and the Russian government. The Senate report on campaign interference, released last month, confirmed practically every charge made against the Trump campaign, as well as revealing some sense of the vast scope of Russian efforts. But it appears to have landed, and vanished, without a splash. Senate Republicans released it without so much as a press release, and the press dutifully ignored it.
In the final month and a half of the campaign, it should be expected that Russia will increase its efforts to denigrate Biden, boost Trump, and generally rip open divisions in the United States—especially around race. Russia has long understood that racism is the biggest weakness in America, and they’ve just been looking for the right partner to exploit that weakness. They’ll do everything they can to keep him in place.