Dysfunctional Relationship

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The former KGB agent undermining American democracy, Russian President Vladimir Putin

Image credit: PBS NewsHour, YouTube

President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met privately today during the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, in their first face-to-face meeting. A day after the president reluctantly reaffirmed that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election, Trump shook hands and smiled at the man who ordered critical cyberattacks on American democracy.

According to President Trump, he and Putin discussed “various things” during their longer-than-expected two-hour meeting, which was also attended by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and their translators.

“I think it’s going very well,” Trump told Putin, adding, “it’s an honor to be with you.”

President Putin, meanwhile, said he was delighted to meet Trump in person and said he hoped the meeting would yield positive results. “Phone conversations are never enough,” he added.

The bilateral meeting, which was first scheduled to be a brief pull-aside between the two heads of state, was arranged by the White House and comes, of course, amidst ongoing investigations into whether Trump’s campaign team actively colluded with Russian officials to manipulate the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The Trump camp insisted on keeping the meeting small to avoid leaks and conflicting accounts.

While speaking to reporters at a press conferenced in Warsaw, Poland, just the day before, the president attempted to cast doubt on Russia’s election interference, saying, “I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries.” “Nobody really knows, nobody really knows for sure,” Trump insisted.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper insisted on Thursday that he saw no evidence that any entity except Russia interfered in the 2016 election, despite President Trump’s equivocations.

President Trump’s statements directly contradicts statements made by the heads of US intelligence agencies, all 17 of which have already concluded, based on overwhelming evidence, that the Kremlin actively interfered in the 2016 election.

US intelligence agencies have also concluded that Putin himself directed the series of ongoing cyberattacks against the Democratic National Committee as well as voting software in at least 21 states across the country prior to the election—all in the hope of rigging the election in Trump’s favor.

Earlier this year, most Americans, including the national media, believed that Russian interference was primarily limited to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and subsequent leaks of its documents in addition to the Kremlin’s active involvement in the weaponization of fake news—possibly in coordination with pro-Trump and other alt-right sites here in the US.

But an NSA report, published partially in The Intercept in June, demonstrates that Russian efforts were much broader and “were in the process of targeting the machinery of our democracy itself,” according to J. Alex Halderman, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Computer Security and Society in US News & World Report. The report also states unequivocally that it was Russian military intelligence, or GRU, that conducted the cyberattacks described.

“That a foreign adversary really was taking steps toward targeting that voting equipment should raise major alarm bells not just for the 2016 election but 2018, 2020 and beyond,” said Halderman.

In other words, America’s electoral system is vulnerable and foreign adversaries, such as Russia, are actively trying to exploit these weaknesses, including ultimately hacking actual vote totals across the country.

Everyone seems to be concerned about this except for President Trump and his administration and the vast majority of the Republicans in Congress.

– Danielle Bizzarro

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