Opinion

Richard Burr undercuts Trump on Russia

North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr hasn’t spoken out against President Trump’s abuses of his office, but the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee has approved a committee report that is undermining Trump’s story about Russia’s interference in U.S. elections.

After two and half years of investigating Russia’s attack on U.S. democracy, Burr’s committee has issued two volumes of report of its findings. The second volume, released on Oct. 8, states that Russia did all it could online to help Trump become president. Referring to the Russian front organization that pumped disinformation into the U.S. — the Internet Research Agency — it says: “The Committee found that the IRA 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.”

Burr deserves credit for a report that refutes Trump’s dismissal of Russia’s role in his election. Trump has spent most of his term declaring “no collusion” with the Russians. He says nothing about the support he received from the Russians. What’s worse is that not only were the Russians helping Trump’s campaign, Trump himself mirrors their techniques.

The report’s description of the Russians’ attempts to roil Americans can sound like a description of Trump’s incendiary rhetoric. Burr said in a statement that Russia’s goal is “to sow societal discord and erode public confidence in the machinery of government. By flooding social media with false reports, conspiracy theories, and trolls, and by exploiting existing divisions, Russia is trying to breed distrust of our democratic institutions and our fellow Americans.”

Trump’s aim since he came down the Trump Tower escalator has been to widen divisions in the country, undermine confidence in federal public servants by claiming he is the victim of a deep state conspiracy, and pumping out false statements, often using his Twitter account. The day after the Intelligence Committee’s Oct. 8 report, CNN posted a story with this headline: “Ukraine dishonesty blitz: Trump made 66 false claims last week.” Those included 20 false claims on Twitter.

This report passage about the Russia effort also brings to mind a certain White House occupant: “The majority of its operations focused on exacerbating existing tensions on socially divisive issues, including race, immigration, and Second Amendment rights.”

If that’s not clear enough, here is what the report says about one of the Russians’ top tactics — attacking the media: “A free and open press — a defining attribute of democratic society — is a principal strategic target for Russian disinformation. As Soviet-born author Peter Pomerantsev notes, ‘The Kremlin successfully erodes the integrity of investigative and political journalism, producing a lack of faith in traditional media.’ “

Trump has made “fake news” a common refrain and attacked journalists as “the enemy of the American people.” He’s doing a better job of raising doubts about American investigative and political journalism than the Russians themselves.

The committee’s report suggests numerous steps to protect the U.S. against Russian disinformation. But Trump’s nonchalance about Russia’s 2016 attack and his recent request for Ukraine to do him “a favor“ effectively reject this committee recommendation: “The Executive Branch should, in the run up to the 2020 election, reinforce with the public the danger of attempted foreign interference in the 2020 election.”

Burr hasn’t said much about Trump, but the committee he leads just said a lot.

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