On July 3, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report saying it has found “further details” to support the intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Moscow did interfere into the 2016 election. According to it, Russia’s efforts were greater than reported previously. As Democratic Senator Mark Warner, the Vice-Chair of Intelligence Committee, put it “The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton.” The report does not say that the president or his aides were personally involved in any kind of collusion but it concludes that the interference into election was ordered by the Russian president and this fact is beyond doubt. The main source of information is open sources, not hard evidence. The investigation will continue.
The House Intelligence Committee, which is also dominated by Republicans, concluded in April that Russia ran an information warfare campaign to influence the election results but it did not say President Putin was personally involved or that the effort’s goal was to support Donald Trump. Unlike the Senate Committee’s report, it said there were flaws in intelligence agencies’ work, which is praised by the Senate’s paper.
The independent inquiry conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller still continues without any sensation to produce.
Actually, the Senate panel’s report says nothing new compared to intelligence report putting the blame on Russia. It offers no details to prove that Moscow is an evildoer. It goes into the same old song and dance about its hacking, spying and propaganda to sway election results and a lot of other nefarious things allegedly done by Russia. This harping on the same string has never been backed by anything like serious evidence to consider. There is little difference between “information from open sources” and concoctions that should hardly be wasted time on.
It’s the timing that matters. The Senate investigation had lasted for 16 months. The report accusing the Russian president personally saw light less than two weeks before the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki. It was also the time a team of Republican congressmen were in Russia on the most significant congressional visit to come in about a decade. And they sounded a newly conciliatory tone. Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) told Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that while Russia and the United States were competitors, “we don’t necessarily need to be adversaries.”
Evidently, the time of the report’s publication was carefully chosen. This is an attempt to spoil the things before the top-level meeting. Any new Senate report hits headlines. It willy-nilly complicates the things for those who are involved in re-establishing contacts with Russia. They know that it’s useless to discuss the “Russiagate” during the event. This is a topic to be set aside so that the negotiating teams could concentrate on the issues where they can get a real result. But the Senate committee’s report cannot be ignored. It makes the negotiators raise the issue and devote more time to it than planned, whether they want it or not.
If the Trump-Putin summit fails, Democrats will use it to their advantage before the November midterm election. President Trump’s position regarding “Russia’s meddling in elections” irritates many in the intelligence community. After all, he refuses to share the opinion of CIA, FBI, NSA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence directors. Many top officials of the intelligence community would like to prove him wrong. The opposition to Trump’s idea of taking Russia back to the G7 to make it the group of eight again is strong. Those who oppose the idea of Russia-US dialogue revival will grab the opportunity to say that any effort is futile once even Donald Trump, the president who tried to normalize the relationship against all odds, failed to cope with the task and his announced intention to hit it off with President Putin was nothing more but shortsightedness. If progress is achieved, Donald Trump will be accused of being soft and going too far while making concessions and getting nothing in return. That’s when the Senate panel’s report will come handy to tarnish the president’s reputation before the midterm election.
There may be other steps taken before July 16 to create an atmosphere not conducive to achieving positive results. This is something to be expected. Despite that, the meeting can be a step forward to boost the president’s ratings and increase the Republicans’ chances to gain more seats in November. Americans want no wars and tensions. The best way to ease suspicions over alleged meddling into elections is discussing cyber security and confidence-building measures.