With a series of disturbing developments between Donald Trump and Russia, is the 2020 presidential election poised to be 2016 redux? I certainly hope not, but don’t expect Russia to back down.
First off, reports of Trump having not responded to a brief earlier this year detailing the truly vile Russian-Afghani bounty scheme on American soldiers have stoked anger from across the political spectrum. As that linked article from Just Security further demonstrates, Trump’s most recent acts of fealty to Russia extended further—he actually pushed the CIA to give intel to the Kremlin. “[B]ehind the scenes, Trump directed the CIA to share intelligence information on counterterrorism with the Kremlin despite no discernible reward, former intelligence officials who served in the Trump administration told Just Security.”
It doesn’t end there. Trump publicly announced that the US had conducted a cyberattack against Russia in 2018. This might seem like a good thing — that Trump at the very least acquiesced to cabinet and/or career intelligence officials’ recommendation to conduct a cyberattack against Russia—but you’d be wrong. In making this information public, Trump showed his cards in just the wrong way.
Firstly, he cued Russia in on a specific cyberattack and let them know that the US conducted it. This could potentially allow them to study the hallmarks of the attack and know when we’re conducting another in the future. Secondly, Trump didn’t brag about having conducted any other cyberattacks against Russia. You would think that he would have bragged about having conducted more if he could. For the record, I do think the US has conducted far more than just the one cyberattack against Russia, however the fact that Trump doesn’t mention more could then also mean he does not want to compromise his favorable relationship with Putin.
Back to what this might mean for the 2020 presidential election. US intelligence agencies have been warning us for years now that 2020 would be as much or more of a target to foreign interference than 2016’s election. Trump has everything to gain from this, as he did last time. In flamboyantly waving around his fealty to Russia, Trump is signaling to them that the gates are open. And don’t assume that this time we’ll be able to notice the interference.