The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Russia is actively helping Trump. Again.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and President Trump give a joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki in 2018. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

The Post reports:

Russia is “using a range of measures” to interfere in the 2020 election and has enlisted a pro-Russian lawmaker from Ukraine — who has met with President Trump’s personal lawyer — “to undermine former vice president [Joe] Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party,” a top U.S. intelligence official said in a statement Friday.
The remarks by William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, were some of the most detailed to date about foreign interference in the presidential race and come after earlier criticism from Democratic lawmakers that Evanina had not shared with the public some of the alarming intelligence he gave them in classified briefings.

Evanina declared that China does not favor Trump, pointing to his unpredictability. However, unlike Russia, China is merely voicing criticism of Trump in public pronouncements. To be clear: China, according to the administration, prefers Biden (more about that in a moment) but Russia, just as it did in 2016, is working actively to elect Trump. Putting them in the same statement (along with Iran, which is not taking active measures) seemed to be a transparent political effort to even the playing field for Trump. (Transparent but not surprising. Consider the director of national intelligence is a partisan hack and conspiracy monger, John Ratcliffe, who lacked an intelligence background and fiercely defended Trump’s betrayal of national security in the Ukraine scandal.) Only one power is engaged in ongoing actions to influence the election, and that is for the benefit of one candidate, Trump.

Why shouldn’t Moscow go all in for Trump once more? After all, Russian President Vladimir Putin has gotten much of what he wants from Trump: delegitimization of Western democracies, a pass on bounties on U.S. troops, frayed relations within NATO, withdrawal of U.S. troops from Germany, cover for Putin’s interference in our 2016 elections. Putin has no reason to believe he will pay any price for a reprise of his 2016 activities.

Interestingly, Evanina singled out a pro-Russian operative who has bragged about providing incriminating information against Biden. The Post reports: “He noted that a Ukrainian lawmaker who has been in contact with Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, is part of a Russian disinformation effort. ‘Pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading claims about corruption — including through publicizing leaked phone calls — to undermine’ Biden and Democrats, Evanina said.” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who has shown interest in Derkach’s claims and has been accused by Democrats of getting roped into a foreign influence scheme, should now be on notice to steer clear of Derkach.

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The Biden camp responded swiftly. “Donald Trump has publicly and repeatedly invited, emboldened, and even tried to coerce foreign interference in American elections,” said Biden senior adviser Tony Blinken in a statement. “He urged Russia to hack the emails of his opponent in 2016, sided with Vladimir Putin over his unprecedented violation of American sovereignty that year, publicly called on China to investigate Joe Biden while begging them to help him win-re-election, and attempted to blackmail his Ukrainian counterpart into propagating a widely-debunked conspiracy theory about the Vice President — getting impeached in the process." Blinken continued: "Joe Biden, on the other hand, has led the fight against foreign interference for years, and has refused to accept any foreign materials intended to help him in this election — something that Donald Trump and his campaign have repeatedly failed to do.”

China’s public rhetoric has been increasingly anti-Trump, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. But this is to be expected since Trump has been going all out to shift blame for covid-19 to Beijing. However, it is not all that clear Biden is their man. The Post reported last year, “Though the U.S.-China relationship has been rocky over the past 18 months, many in China’s halls of power hope that the American leader will win a second term next year. For although he may seem unpredictable, Chinese officials are betting that Trump’s transactional approach to politics might be preferable to a more principle-driven president, whether Democrat or Republican.” Given that Trump reportedly gave the thumbs up to China’s concentration camps for the Uighurs and, prior to the spread of the coronavirus, had nothing but praise for President Xi Jinping, this is understandable.

More recently, Bloomberg reported in June: “Donald Trump has argued frequently of late that China is rooting for Joe Biden come November’s U.S. presidential election. In Beijing, however, officials have come around to support four more years of Trump.” The report continued, “Interviews with nine current and former Chinese officials point to a shift in sentiment in favor of the sitting president, even though he has spent much of the past four years blaming Beijing for everything from U.S. trade imbalances to Covid-19. The chief reason? A belief that the benefit of the erosion of America’s postwar alliance network would outweigh any damage to China from continued trade disputes and geopolitical instability.” Trump’s decision to pull the plug on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, his withdrawal from the World Health Organization and his stated desire to retrench and retreat have been a boon to China’s power and influence.

In short, Trump is bad for Western unity and for American democracy. That is all to China’s liking. Bloomberg again:“Some in Beijing are wondering aloud about Trump’s long-term impact on U.S. stability, pointing to surging coronavirus cases, protests against police discrimination and speculation about whether the pandemic election might end in chaos.” Specifically:

Trump’s “America First” policies have created similar frictions in capitals that have traditionally been friendlier to the U.S., as he levies tariffs on key trading partners, presses allies for greater spending on collective defense, withdraws from multilateral agreements and supports the U.K.’s break from the Europe Union. Chinese officials privately acknowledge that a Democratic administration might prove more formidable if it worked with allies to present a united front.

Russia and strongmen around the world have gotten a pass over and over again from Trump on human rights. Russia is still ensconced in Ukraine; China has destroyed Hong Kong’s autonomy. Moreover, a weakened, less respected United States is a plus for illiberal regimes. The last thing they need is a centrist Democratic president with “normal” U.S. foreign policies, good relations with allies, active involvement in international organizations and a consistent defense of human rights.

Columnist Max Boot walks through the evidence he says shows Russian meddling pushed President Trump over the finish line in 2016. (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

Read more:

Dana Milbank: We are only beginning to suffer the consequences of Trump’s failures

The Plum Line: Trump’s own intelligence officials just undercut efforts to smear Joe Biden

Richard Blumenthal: The threat to U.S. elections is real, and frightening. The public has a right to know.