The Stew Reporting on government and politics

Wary of Russian influence

Politics | Clinton-Gabbard tussle rekindles the discussion of election meddling
by Harvest Prude
Posted 10/24/19, 10:06 pm

WASHINGTON—A feud between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a Democratic presidential hopeful brought more attention to the ongoing problem of Russian interference in the U.S. political process.

Last week, critics widely panned Clinton for rather clumsily accusing U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii of colluding with the Russians.

In an appearance on a podcast hosted by David Plouffe, the former campaign manager of President Barack Obama, Clinton said she believes the Russians have “their eye on someone who’s currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate.” Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill later confirmed his boss was referring to Gabbard. “She’s the favorite of the Russians,” Clinton continued. “They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far.”

In a scathing series of tweets and a video, Gabbard responded by slamming Clinton. The congresswoman said Clinton targeted her because she bucked the party line and endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the 2016 Democratic primaries instead of Clinton.

A report released by NBC News in February found that, since Gabbard announced her bid for the White House on Jan. 11, Kremlin-linked websites and social media devoted at least 20 articles to defending her. Three websites mentioned Gabbard twice as often as higher-polling candidates such as former Vice President Joe Biden and Sanders. The writers described Gabbard in generally positive ways, from “straight-talking” to “heroic” for her foreign policy views.

Earlier this month, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the second volume of its report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The report describes an around-the-clock social media disinformation campaign implemented by Russian actors with the Kremlin-connected Internet Research Agency (IRA).

According to the report, the IRA had an estimated 400 employees who worked rotating 12-hour shifts in 2015. Former IRA employees testified they had to maintain multiple accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and their bosses required them to publish each day at least five political posts, 10 nonpolitical posts, and 150 to 200 interactions with other trolls’ postings and news articles. They sought to flood the internet with Kremlin-approved propaganda.

A former IRA employee testified, “Our goal wasn't to turn the Americans toward Russia. … Our task was to set Americans against their own government: to provoke unrest and discontent.”

IRA workers also sought to cover their tracks by masking political posts with what seemed like legitimate online content. “We had to write ‘ordinary posts’ about making cakes or music tracks we liked, but then every now and then throw in a political post,” the employee said.

One Facebook page called “Army of Jesus” primarily posted about Christian themes and Bible passages. On Oct. 31, 2016, the account posted, “Jesus will always be by your side. Just reach out to him and you’ll see!” On Nov. 1, 2016, it said, “HILLARY APPROVES REMOVAL OF GOD FROM THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE.” And on Nov. 2, 2016, it posted, “never hold on anything [sic] tighter than you hold onto God.”

During the presidential campaign, these trolls turned their attention to denigrating Clinton and Republican presidential candidates viewed as unfavorable to Russia, such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. They also sought to suppress Democratic voter turnout, encourage independent turnout for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, and boost turnout for then-candidate Donald Trump.

Adam Carrington, an assistant professor of politics at Hillsdale College, said lawmakers should work to counter Russian influence without turning the threat of it into a “political cudgel against opponents beyond what the facts warrant.” He advised voters to be wary of their sources of news and recommended that states should update their election systems and ensure a paper trail backs up electronic ballots.

“The proliferation of information means it’s much more on us as citizens to discern between legitimate criticism and things that are just made up,” Carrington said. “It’s not always easy, but it’s something that’s necessary if we’re going to really love our neighbors—even when you disagree with them—to make sure any criticism you have is based on some real truth.”

Such wisdom will increasingly be needed, especially in light of one of the committee’s findings: “IRA activity on social media did not cease, but rather increased after Election Day 2016.”

Associated Press/Photo by Joe Lewnard/Daily Herald Associated Press/Photo by Joe Lewnard/Daily Herald Hillary Clinton

Clinton email probe ends

A State Department review released last week concluded that while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton risked exposing classified information by using a private email server, she and her staff did not deliberately violate government protocol.

The State Department spent 38 months reviewing some 33,000 emails and interviewing current and former employees to determine if the emails violated standards for transmitting classified information and whether any individuals were culpable.

It found 38 people had violated classified procedures on 91 occasions, along with hundreds of other violations that could not be attributed to any individual, but no systematic, deliberate violations. The department noted the scale of the review as well as the significant passage of time since the emails were sent hampered the effort.

The report marked a quiet end to ongoing questions about Clinton’s decision to use a private email server during her tenure as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state that led to an FBI investigation and came to dominate her 2016 presidential campaign. —Anne K. Walters

Associated Press/Photo by Alex Sanz Associated Press/Photo by Alex Sanz Trump National Doral in Doral, Fla.

Trump drops resort plans for summit

President Donald Trump backtracked on plans to hold next year’s G-7 summit at his resort in Miami. Critics warned it would pose a conflict of interest since the president would profit from the gathering of world leaders.

Trump changed course just two days after the White House announced Trump National Doral would host the summit.

The president continued to defend his original plan at a Cabinet meeting Monday and blamed the change of plans on Democrats and the “phony emoluments clause,” a constitutional ban on presidents profiting from foreign governments. Republicans also had questioned the move’s propriety, but Trump insisted he would have avoided the issue by providing use of the resort for free. —A.K.W.

Another Democrat drops out

Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio announced Thursday he is dropping his bid for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. He had hoped to appeal to working-class Democrats who voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, but his campaign failed to gain momentum. Ryan plans to focus on winning a ninth term in the House of Representatives. —H.P.

Harvest Prude

Harvest is a reporter for WORLD based in Washington, D.C.

Read more from this writer


You must be a WORLD Member and logged in to the website to comment.
  • not silent
    Posted: Fri, 10/25/2019 11:48 am

    The first article is no surprise to me!  It has seemed clear to me for a while that foreign interests (Russians and others) were seeking to cause discord and contention in this country.  Those who use this as a weapon against their opponents are only playing into their hands.  Let me add that I do NOT mean that there should be no investigations of possible interference.  Every possible crime should be investigated, but investigating something and using accusation and innuendo as a weapon are two different things.  I think it's becoming harder and harder to see the difference because of how innuendo is often reported as if it were fact and how attacking and shaming opponents has become the norm. (A more insidious version of this is not reporting the whole story but only presenting the parts that support a certain viewpoint.) 

    People on each side seem to feel that the OTHER side is the only one to blame, but I have been seeing in on both sides of the aisle for years.  I actually saw it first with republicans years ago, when some of my friends began sending me emails which contained unsubstantiated accusations against democrats; and they pushed back against me when I questioned the information and refused to retract it even when it was shown to be false.  Each side seems to demand absolute loyalty, and that now seems to include agreement with EVERY SINGLE issue.  I can't be completely loyal to either side because I'm strongly pro life but I am also in favor of helping the poor and immigrants and for reasonable gun laws and protection of the environment.  (Of course, being pro life is biblical; and it's very important.  But I think the other things are also biblical and important.) Unfortunately, I get attacked by people on both sides if I disagree or even ask questions.

    I pray for discernement so that I can find the truth about all these issues.  I also pray that I can find the balance between seeking justice in our society and showing love to those who don't know Christ and that I can demonstrate love for others even when we disagree.  Even Jesus' disciples didn't agree about politics (i.e., one was a tax collector who collaborated with Rome and another was a Zealot who stood for military action against Rome), but they came together because of the gospel.  One reason people were attracted to Christianity was that people who were very different and did not always agree were able to meet and worship together in love and to show love to people outside their fellowship.        

  •  CaptTee's picture
    Posted: Fri, 10/25/2019 02:23 pm

    The law regarding the crime of "mishandling classified information" does not make allowances for intent.

    "I didn't intend to send classifed information to an insecure E-Mail server." is not only a violation of the law, it is an admission of guilt!

    We do not have equal justice under the law, if there are no prosecutions in this case.

  • OldMike
    Posted: Sun, 10/27/2019 03:23 pm

    In the second article is a statement that can be parsed in the best traditions  of Bill Clinton’s “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”

    “she [Hillary Clinton] and her staff did not deliberately violate government protocol.”

    The accuracy of this statement—and the judgment it refers to—depends on what the meanings of “deliberately,” “violate,” and “protocol” are.