U.S. officials told Sen. Bernie Sanders that Russia is attempting to help his presidential campaign as part of an effort to interfere with the presidential election.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence, sources say Trump and lawmakers on Capitol Hill also have been informed about the Russian assistance to the Vermont senator.
It’s unclear what form that assistance has taken but U.S. prosecutors found a Russian effort in 2016 to use social media to boost Sanders’ campaign against Hillary Clinton as part of a broader effort to hurt Clinton and ultimately help elect Trump.
Sanders said in a statement,
“I don’t care, frankly, who [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wants to be president.
My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.
In 2016, Russia used Internet propaganda to sow division in our country, and my understanding is that they are doing it again in 2020. Some of the ugly stuff on the Internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters.”
Last week senior intelligence officials said that Russia wants to see Trump reelected, viewing his administration as more favorable to the Kremlin’s interests and the disclosure of Russian assistance to Sanders follows that briefing to lawmakers.
In that closed hearing for the House Intelligence Committee, lawmakers were also told that Sanders had been informed about Russia’s interference.
The prospect of two rival campaigns both receiving help from Moscow appears to reflect what intelligence officials have previously described as Russia’s broader interest in sowing division in the U.S. and uncertainty about the validity of American elections.
At a rally Friday in Nevada, Trump called reports that Putin wanted to help him “disinformation” and asked Trump asked, referring to the senator’s travels in the former Soviet Union,
“Wouldn’t he rather have Bernie, who honeymooned in Moscow?”
Sanders told reporters Friday after The Post’s report was published that he received the briefing
“about a month ago.”
Asked why he did not disclose the briefing publicly, Sanders replied,
“Because I go to many intelligence briefings which I don’t reveal to the public.”
Sanders offered few details about what officials told him,
“Well, it was not clear what role they’re going to play. We were told that Russia, maybe other countries, are going to get involved in this campaign. And look, here’s the message, to Russia – stay out of American elections.”
Asked why the briefing was reported now, a month later, Sanders said:
“I’ll let you guess about one day before the, the Nevada caucus. Why do you think it came out?”
Sanders pointed to a Post reporter and said sarcastically:
“It was The Washington Post? Good friends.”
Kristine Coratti, a spokeswoman for The Post said,
“We report news when we learn it.”
Sanders’ opponents have blamed some of his most vocal online supporters for injecting toxic rhetoric into the primaries. At a Democratic candidates debate Wednesday in Las Vegas, Sanders indirectly blamed Russia, saying it was possible that malign actors were trying to manipulate social media to inflame divisions among Democrats.
“All of us remember 2016, and what we remember is efforts by Russians and others to try to interfere in our elections and divide us up.
I’m not saying that’s happening, but it would not shock me.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller III also alleged that, working with WikiLeaks, the Russian government purposely released stolen internal Democratic Party emails on the eve of the Democratic National Convention in July 2016, so as to exacerbate party divisions and a sense of grievance by Sanders supporters.
FYI, if you subscribe to the idea that Russia wants Trump in again & Bernie to run against him, then Sanders is, in theory, Trump’s weakest opponent.
I've got news for the Republican establishment. I've got news for the Democratic establishment. They can't stop us.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 22, 2020
(via The Hour)