“Even after the election, Russian online influence actors continued to promote narratives questioning the election results and disparaging President Biden and the Democratic Party,” the report notes.
Haines warned in a second report also released this week that “narratives of fraud in the recent general election” (which the Russians amplified) are among the factors that “will almost certainly spur some [domestic violent extremists] to try to engage in violence this year.”
The most startling conclusion that emerges from the intelligence reports is that Republicans close to Trump continued to peddle Moscow’s line even after they were warned about the Russian disinformation campaign. They eagerly took the bait.
One persistent pro-Kremlin manipulator was Andriy Derkach, a Ukrainian legislator who the first report alleged “has ties to Russian officials as well as Russia’s intelligence services.” Derkach met in Kyiv on Dec. 5, 2019, with Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, to pass disinformation about Biden. Haines noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin “had purview over the activities” of Derkach.
The intelligence community warned the White House back then, in December 2019, that “Giuliani was the target of an influence operation by Russian intelligence,” according to a story 10 months later in The Post.
Trump and Giuliani, far from dissuaded by the warnings about Derkach’s spin campaign, kept pushing the false claim that Biden had corruptly intervened in Ukraine. In his hunt for damaging information about Biden, Trump had already squeezed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a now-famous July 2019 phone call. Trump was impeached by the House for his alleged attempt to extort political benefits from Ukraine, but he was acquitted by the Senate.
Derkach kept pushing his anti-Biden narrative to Republicans in Washington, even though the intelligence community had identified him as a Kremlin operative. Haines noted this week that Derkach “hired a U.S. firm to petition U.S. officials,” an apparent reference to a Washington lobbying firm that disclosed in a Foreign Agents Registration Act filing that it had been hired by Derkach but terminated the relationship on July 31, 2020.
Haines also noted that Russian proxies “helped produce a documentary that aired on a U.S. television network in late January 2020.” The Times of San Diego said the report “hints” that the network was One America News, which is based in San Diego.
A spokesman for the network said it drew on “numerous in-person interviews in multiple European countries” for its documentary alleging that Biden had improperly aided the Ukrainian gas company, Burisma, where his son Hunter was a director. The spokesman said the network’s interviews with Derkach occurred before he was sanctioned and drew on “findings sourced and confirmed” by various other Ukrainian sources.
Democrats were so alarmed that the GOP was peddling Russian dirt that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and some colleagues said in a July 2020 letter that they were “gravely concerned . . . that Congress appears to be the target of a concerted foreign interference campaign.” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told me that because of intelligence briefings, “I don’t think that any members of Congress could have been unaware” of the Russian influence campaign.
Publicly, Trump’s intelligence chiefs initially played down Russian meddling. But on Aug. 7, William Evanina, head of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, warned that Derkach was “spreading claims about corruption” to undermine Biden’s campaign.
Even the Trump Treasury Department finally joined in cautioning Republicans about Derkach’s disinformation. On Sept. 10, Treasury sanctioned him for “efforts to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election,” calling him “an active Russian agent for over a decade, maintaining close connections with the Russian Intelligence Services.” Treasury noted that his “covert influence campaign” had been churning falsehoods “from at least late 2019.”
But did that stop Trump and his acolytes from feeding the same Russian narrative through Election Day? Surely you jest. On Sept. 23, Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), then-chairs of the Homeland Security and Finance committees, respectively, issued a report that rehashed the same Biden charges that had been dished by Derkach and others.
What’s the lesson? A Kremlin disinformation campaign just keeps on rolling, as long as there are people gullible or cynical enough to believe it.