I wouldn’t have thought about it again. But now the media’s spent so much time focusing on it and quite frankly the whole thing’s just a big distraction for the country. And you look at what Russia did -- you know, buying some Facebook ads and try to sow dissent and do it, and it’s a terrible thing but I think the investigations and all the speculation that has happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on democracy than a couple Facebook ads....I think they said they spent about $160,000. I spent $160,000 on Facebook every three hours during the campaign. So if you look at the magnitude of what they did and what they accomplished, I think the ensuing investigations have been way more harmful to our country.
Such clever understatement of Russian interference obliged Bennett to set the record straight: It wasn’t just that the Russians bought a “couple ads” on Facebook; they organized groups and orchestrated events on the soil of the United States and accomplished their intrusions in other ways as well.
Here’s a little excerpt from the Mueller report on the effectiveness of the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) in penetrating social media in the United States:
In November 2017, a Facebook representative testified that Facebook had identified 470 IRA-controlled Facebook accounts that collectively made 80,000 posts between January 2015 and August 2017. Facebook estimated the IRA reached as many as 126 million persons through its Facebook accounts. In January 2018, Twitter announced that it had identified 3,814 IRA-controlled Twitter accounts and notified approximately 1.4 million people Twitter believed may have been in contact with an IRA-controlled account.
Collectively, the IRA’s social media accounts reached tens of millions of U.S. persons. Individual IRA social media accounts attracted hundreds of thousands of followers. For example, at the time they were deactivated by Facebook in mid-2017, the IRA’s “United Muslims of America” Facebook group had over 300,000 followers, the “Don’t Shoot Us” Facebook group had over 250,000 followers, the “Being Patriotic” Facebook group had over 200,000 followers, and the “Secured Borders” Facebook group had over 130,000 followers. According to Facebook, in total the IRA-controlled accounts made over 80,000 posts before their deactivation in August 2017, and these posts reached at least 29 million U.S persons and “may have reached an estimated 126 million people.”
And just as Bennett noted, the IRA’s work leaped from the keyboard into the streets. Rallies were orchestrated, mainly to support Donald Trump’s candidacy: “From June 2016 until the end of the presidential campaign, almost all of the U.S. rallies organized by the IRA focused on the U.S. election, often promoting the Trump Campaign and opposing the Clinton Campaign. Pro-Trump rallies included three in New York; a series of pro-Trump rallies in Florida in August 2016; and a series of pro-Trump rallies in October 2016 in Pennsylvania. The Florida rallies drew the attention of the Trump Campaign, which posted about the Miami rally on candidate Trump’s Facebook account,” notes the Mueller report.
“Dozens” of tweets and posts created by IRA operatives, noted the Mueller report, were promoted by “Trump Campaign affiliates.” Other details: Two IRA employees visited the United States to game out their operations. And an IRA policy directive highlighted in the Mueller report put its thrust in a direct way: “Main idea: Use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump — we support them)."
Have we mentioned yet the hacking of the Russian Federation’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU) against Democratic entities?
Look: White House policy on the Mueller probe is set by the Twitter-loving president, which describes it as a “witch hunt.” Aides such as Kushner must remain committed to that policy as they take questions about the menace of Russian interference. There’s no way to preach the “witch hunt” line while also acknowledging that Russian interference is a big problem. To read the Mueller report is to come face to face with a foreign power seeking to hijack U.S. democracy.
In a display of tremendous dishonesty, however, Kushner diminishes it all. As a little bonus, he expresses wonder that the media focused on the Trump Tower meeting that he attended with Russians and Trump campaign operatives. Perhaps he should consider that some of that focus stemmed from the fact that Trump & Co. chose to lie about the meeting in their initial statement on the session.
To return to one of Kushner’s thoughts: “I think the investigations and all the speculation that has happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on democracy than a couple Facebook ads.” Right there is the Trump White House’s entire ideology regarding the search for the truth: It’s never worth the bad publicity.