Russia Backing Sanders Again

In 2016, they were backing an extreme long-shot. Now, he's the frontrunner.

Yesterday afternoon, news broke that US intelligence agencies have briefed Congress that the Russian government is once again seeking to influence the US elections, including the party primaries. Now, the other shoe has dropped.

Shane Harris, Ellen Nakashima, Michael Scherer and Sean Sullivan report for WaPo (“”):

U.S. officials have told Sen. Bernie Sanders that Russia is attempting to help his presidential campaign as part of an effort to interfere with the Democratic contest, according to people familiar with the matter.

President Trump and lawmakers on Capitol Hill have also been informed about the Russian assistance to the Vermont senator, according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.

It is not clear what form that Russian assistance has taken. U.S. prosecutors found a Russian effort in 2016 to use social media to boost Sanders’s campaign against Hillary Clinton, part of a broader effort to hurt Clinton, sow dissension in the American electorate and ultimately help elect Donald Trump.

This was my surmise this morning and it makes sense. As Julia Ioffe has been reporting for years, the rationale is obvious:

But there is a distinct difference in how Sanders is handling the news vice how Trump has going back to 2016:

“I don’t care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president,” Sanders said in a statement to The Washington Post. “My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.

I sincerely hope Sanders is not our next President, unless the alternative is another four years of Trump. But despite his being something of a useful idiot in his younger days, I believe he is sincere both in rejecting Russian interference in this campaign and in wanting to protect the sanctity of his country’s elections more generally.

FILED UNDER: Bernie Sanders, Campaign 2020, Donald Trump, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    Are these “U.S. officials” providing legitimate information, or are they newly installed Trump Quislings trying to float a “no actually it’s the Democrats who are colluding with Russia” story like they did for Hillary Clinton after the Mueller report came out?

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: No, it was well understood that the Russians did this in 2016 for the same reason they did it with Trump—to sow maximum discord. I don’t think they thought either Sanders or Trump would be President but Hillary was going to be damaged as was national cohesion.

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  3. CSK says:

    Another difference between Trump and Sanders is that what Trump resents isn’t the interference on his behalf, but the implication that he needed Russian help to win in 2016 and will need it in 2020.

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  4. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Stormy Dragon: To echo James, it appears to be rock solid, and I’ve seen it reported elsewhere at least a year or more ago.

    One would think that the Trump team would prefer to avoid the whole conversation and won’t make it an issue, but I’ve given up predicting what sort of things they will say or do.

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  5. DrDaveT says:

    @CSK:

    Another difference between Trump and Sanders is that what Trump resents isn’t the interference on his behalf, but the implication that he needed Russian help to win in 2016 and will need it in 2020.

    True. On the other hand, a similarity between Trump and Sanders is that neither considers the fact that Russia would prefer them to the alternatives to be material evidence regarding whether they should run.

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  6. mattbernius says:

    @James Joyner:

    No, it was well understood that the Russians did this in 2016 for the same reason they did it with Trump—to sow maximum discord.

    Jeebus, this! Its literally in the Mueller report and indictments.

    https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2018/02/17/indictment-russians-also-tried-help-bernie-sanders-jill-stein-presidential-campaigns/348051002/

    Like this should be the most unsurprising news of the day. Let’s not go down a deep state rat hole.

    Though FWIW, given Sander’s past approach to foreign policy, he probably is legitimately the Kremlin’s preferred choice on the Democratic side for actual policy reasons as well.

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  7. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    I realize they did it in 2016, but doing it when he’s the spoiler is different from doing it when he’s the front runner. This could still be Trump propaganda, and we have no way of knowing without knowing who the officials in question are. All we know now is they’re officials who have so far survived the ongoing purges, which means we should assume they’re lying to benefit Trump until demonstrated otherwise.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    I agree. Under Trump the US intelligence community cannot be believed without clear proof.

  9. dazedandconfused says:

    I don’t know why everyone draws the conclusion Russia’s intent in 2016 was to “create maximum discord” within the US. Hillary’s tenure at State Dept was marked with fomenting color revolutions in the Ukraine and Putin had a very dicey situation in Syria. Keeping Hillary, or any strident neo-con, out of the White House would be a matter of critical importance for him.

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  10. DrDaveT says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    I don’t know why everyone draws the conclusion Russia’s intent in 2016 was to “create maximum discord” within the US.

    I sorta thought it was because that’s what the Russians doing it said when they were caught and questioned, prior to Trump actually being elected. Am I misremembering?

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  11. Kathy says:

    Wow! Watch for Bernie to steal campaign funds to support himself, as his simple, direct message to Putin costs so much, even rich guys like Trump can’t afford it.

  12. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Test: are there black Sharpie markings on the intelligence reports?

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  13. matt bernius says:

    @DrDaveT:
    As with most things, people love saying “Read the report” when it says something they agree with and then disregard the rest.

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Under Trump the US intelligence community cannot be believed without clear proof.

    Again, this is the same intervene community that people have been holding up as fighting PoTUS, so much so that he has to install a crony to control them.

    Beyond that, why should we believe that the intelligence that the Russians plan to help Trump again in 2020, but question that they want to also help Sanders *also again* in 2020?

    Seriously people. Does this come down to we only agree (or not question) the people who tell us what we want to hear? Because, if that’s the case, I have this amazing Red Hat property that I can get you into for a low low price.

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  14. James Joyner says:

    @dazedandconfused: @DrDaveT: That and it’s their overall approach to political warfare. I’m sure they would have preferred Sanders or Trump as President to Hillary. But I’m sure they read Nate Silver, too, and thought the odds were long.

    @matt bernius: it’s human nature but exhausting. And none of the reports from non-partisans are bothsidesing this. It’s clear Trump was thrilled to get help and even encouraged it. I haven’t seen any evidence of that vis-a-vis Sanders.

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  15. Kurtz says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m sure they read Nate Silver, too, and thought the odds were long.

    This gave me a chuckle, because I imagined a dude in a bear costume and a Gucci ascot poring over Silver’s house effect methodology.

    In all seriousness, it seems like the ideal choice to use the most polarizing candidates in this kind of campaign.

    Even if there are long odds for a victory, the operation is damn cheap for the potential impact. Their preferred candidate does not even have to win–the expected ROI from limgering, deep resentment alone more than justifies the expense.

    A victory is the juiciest kind of fat tail. Hell, maybe they even threw a few bucks down in a prediction market when Trump shares were a few pennies and made some of the operating cost back.

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  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    @matt bernius:

    Beyond that, why should we believe that the intelligence that the Russians plan to help Trump again in 2020, but question that they want to also help Sanders *also again* in 2020?

    For the same reason one believes anything: evidence and consistency with known facts. We know Trump asked for and was given Russian help in 2016. We know he tried to blackmail Ukraine into helping him politically. So a renewal of the Russian attempt follows. And the intel about Trump came out before Trump fired the guy who told him the truth, while the report on Bernie came after.

    The Russians may well help Sanders, it would make sense as a way to help Trump. But the FSB can accomplish the same goal simply by leaking the story that they’re helping Sanders.

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  17. An Interested Party says:

    Here’s hoping that the next leader of Russia isn’t another diabolical Bond villain…

  18. Hal_10000 says:

    Three thoughts:

    1) The Russian interest is in sewing discord. They’ve backed left-wing and right-wing causes all over the Western world whenever they feel the result will be division and dissension.

    2) I’m sure Bernie’s weakness on alliances and opposition to trade — the main source of America’s soft power — only enhances his appeal to Putin.

    3) That being said, vote for who you want to vote for. If you honestly think Bernie is great, vote for him. The desires of a tinpot ruler of a failing country with delusions of grandeur shouldn’t matter that much to you.

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  19. Jeremy Berryman says:

    @DrDaveT: Why should that be a consideration?

  20. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Hal_10000:

    I don’t think Bernie is great, but even if the Democrats end up nominating an incontinent labradoodle, I’ll eagerly vote for them

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  21. theothershoe says:

    @DrDaveT: Would the Russians tell us their real motives?

  22. In regards to why Russians wanting to create chaos would want to help Bernie, especially at this stage: just go watch the Bernie Bro online. That is a group of people who are primed to get very upset if their candidate isn’t nominated. A lot of them went off on Julia Azari on twitter because of her column on nomination rules.

    It makes all the sense in the world to try and stir that pot. And if Bernie surges, but isn’t nominated, that helps Trump when all the Bernie Bros get mad and vote third party or stay home.

    Indeed: the Russians were a source of all the “Bernie was robbed” in 2016 nonsense–nonsense that influenced, I would wager, more than a few of the ~70k votes across three states that gave Trump the EC win.

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  23. Sleeping Dog says:

    Rethugs are falling all over themselves making the claim that the Ruskies are only interested in sowing chaos and not re-electing Tiny. Their fear shrunken pea brains don’t have room for the reality that both can be true, because dear leader denies it.

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  24. @Sleeping Dog: FWIW, I think that Russia’s main policy goal is sowing chaos, but I also think that electorally the outcome they prefer is Trump.

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  25. DrDaveT says:

    @theothershoe:

    Would the Russians tell us their real motives?

    It’s not like we’re talking about a door-to-door survey, or a questionnaire mailed to the Kremlin. There was a serious investigation by professionals. The professionals concluded that the motive of the Russian government had been to sow discord and create chaos. They explained their sources and reasoning. If you disagree with their analysis, by all means post your own.

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  26. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Why shouldn’t the Ruskies favor Tiny? He’s undercut NATO, withdrawn from arms control agreements, abandoned trade agreements and generally damaged the US’s brand in the world. Tiny’s been a gift to Putin. Pretty much all things any other president wouldn’t have done without a plan to take the US in a different direction.

  27. Michael Reynolds says:

    I think people are missing the plot here. The Russians don’t just want chaos, they want Trump. They don’t have a second choice, they want Trump because they own Trump. They don’t own Bernie, the only reason for helping Bernie is to help Trump.

    Bernie is just a tool in Putin’s mind, to help return his bootlick to power. Whether that’s a smart electoral calculation on their part, we shall see.

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  28. DrDaveT says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I think people are missing the plot here. The Russians don’t just want chaos, they want Trump.

    Let me rephrase that slightly.

    The Russians’ motives have changed since last time. Last time, they thought Hillary was a sure thing and that their best play was to increase how unhappy that made many Americans, as a way to undermine her administration. That meant pushing Trump and Bernie.

    Then Trump actually won, and it was Christmas every day in Moscow. Now their best play is to keep Trump in office. They think pushing Trump’s narrative and Bernie’s narrative is the best way to do this. I don’t think they’re idiots.

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  29. Nickel Front says:

    @James Joyner:

    I don’t think they thought either Sanders or Trump would be President

    Gah!

    You just made half the heads here explode by killing the Trump Is Putin’s Puppet Narrative!

  30. Nickel Front says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The Russians don’t just want chaos, they want Trump. They don’t have a second choice, they want Trump because they own Trump.

    You are seriously not well, man.

    “Russian Interference” is basically a bunch of FB posts you don’t like.

    The goal is obviously chaos, and you are all too eager to oblige.

    It’s like you’re doing Russia’s bidding… Like they own you.

  31. DrDaveT says:

    @Nickel Front:

    You just made half the heads here explode by killing the Trump Is Putin’s Puppet Narrative!

    Non-sequitur. Whether the Russians expected Trump could win is independent of whether they own him. Trump winning was just extra hot fudge sauce on their sundae.

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  32. An Interested Party says:

    @Nickel Front: Oh look, the “I know you are but what am I?” argument…that always works so well…

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  33. Lounsbury says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Ah so wonderful, the exact mirror image of the denials from the Trump camp, the beautiful hypocrisy of the tribal partisan mind.

  34. @Michael Reynolds:

    The Russians don’t just want chaos, they want Trump.

    The Russians’ main goal is to make liberal democracy look like a sham. It is why they have interfered in the UK, Germany, and France as well as the US. There is a broader strategy here and we would be wise not to forget that fact.

    As such, electing Trump (which was clearly in their interest) was a bonus and have no doubt they would prefer to keep him in office.

    But the actions in 2016 were not specifically designed to elect Trump.

  35. @Nickel Front:

    You just made half the heads here explode by killing the Trump Is Putin’s Puppet Narrative!

    But, I would note, that accepting that the Russians are trying to sow chaos in the US elections is to admit that the interfered in 2016. All the evidence of that interference is that it helped Trump. And having Trump ask Russia from the podium for HRC’s e-mail as well as praising Wikileaks and other, documented, actions by Trump associates show they understood and encouraged it.

    And while I do not think Trump is an agent of Putin, he is clearly his unwitting Stooge. This whole Crowdstrike nonsense that Trump touts is a Russian intel story. And Trump’s behavior this week in regards to ODNI underscores he is not interested in the truth.