That the 2016 Trump presidential campaign and the Russian government were of the same moral plane is evident from the findings of the bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election that was released this week.
The 19-member panel, led by Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), found — just as the U.S. intelligence community did — that Russian operatives supported by the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg “sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin.”
The Senate committee, however, went a step further than the intelligence community, which said the Russian government “aspired” to help Trump’s election chances. The Senate declared that the Russian activity online “was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump, and to the detriment of Secretary Clinton’s campaign.”
The Russian activity was right up the Trump campaign’s alley.
In the weeks leading up to Election Day 2016, Trump campaign officials let on that they were surreptitiously undertaking a campaign to suppress the black vote, which heavily favored Clinton. Bloomberg reported a senior Trump campaign official acknowledging, “We have three major voter suppression operations under way.” The official said the operations were targeted at three groups Clinton needed to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, African Americans and young women.
Bloomberg reported that on Oct. 24, a few weeks before the polls opened, the Trump campaign started placing spots on “select African American radio stations.” The campaign produced a “South Park”-style animation of Clinton delivering her 1996 line about kids who join gangs, underscored with cartoon text: “Hillary Thinks African Americans are Super Predators.”
The message went out to black voters via nonpublic Facebook “dark posts” — “only the people we want to see it, see it,” a campaign official said. The goal was to depress Clinton turnout, Bloomberg reported, and the campaign had the models to back up the plan.
Another example? Bloomberg also reported that the campaign tried to suppress black turnout in Miami’s Little Haiti using messages related to the Clinton Foundation’s operations in Haiti.
The confluence of the Russian operation with Trump’s campaign was evident in the Senate committee’s finding “that no single group of Americans was targeted by IRA information operatives more than African-Americans. By far, race and related issues were the preferred target of the information warfare campaign designed to divide the country in 2016.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee was not alone in its findings.
Former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who in 2018 filed a federal indictment on Russian activities as far back as 2014, also found that the Russians (like their Trump campaign counterparts) concentrated on encouraging blacks not to vote in the presidential election or to vote for a third-party candidate.
One example of a post to the Russia-controlled Instagram account “Woke Blacks”: “[A] particular hype and hatred for Trump is misleading the people and forcing Blacks to vote Killary. We cannot resort to the lesser of two devils. Then we’d surely be better off without voting AT ALL.”
On the IRA’s Instagram account “Blacktivist”: “Choose peace and vote for Jill Stein. Trust me, it’s not a wasted vote.”
On its “United Muslims of America” accounts: “American Muslims [are] boycotting elections today, most of the American Muslim voters refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton because she wants to continue the war on Muslims in the middle east and voted yes for invading Iraq.”
Did the black-voter-suppression efforts of the Trump campaign and the Russians achieve the objective of reducing black voter turnout in 2016?
For the first time in 20 years, the black voter turnout rate in a presidential election declined. But Barack Obama wasn’t on the ballot, and enthusiasm for Clinton was lukewarm — at best. A direct line between the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin’s operatives has not been established.
But this much is clear: No one could have appreciated the Russians’ attempts at black voter suppression more than Trump.
“They didn’t come out to vote for Hillary. They didn’t come out. And that was a big — so thank you to the African American community,” President-elect Trump taunted at a mostly white rally in Hershey, Pa., in December 2016.
Does Putin get a “thank you,” too?
Read more from Colbert King’s archive.