President Donald Trump’s new communications director, Anthony
Scaramucci, told CNN host Jake Tapper Sunday that Trump
is not convinced that the Russians hacked into the Democratic
National Committee last year because if they did, they
wouldn’t have gotten caught.
“Somebody said to me yesterday that if the Russians actually
hacked this situation, and spilled out those emails, you would’ve
never seen it, you would’ve never had any evidence of that,”
Scaramucci said in an interview on “State of the Union.”
“They’re super confident in their deception skills and hacking.”
Scaramucci then revealed that the theory came from Trump, who
Scaramucci said called him from Air Force One on Saturday and
“basically said to me, ‘Hey, you know, maybe they did do
it, maybe they didn’t do it.'”
Scaramucci’s talking point however appears to
misunderstand what experts and intelligence officials have
concluded was the main purpose of Russia’s election interference:
to sow chaos and undermine the legitimacy of the election,
no matter who won.
Loud for a reason
The Russians “were unusually loud in their intervention,” former
FBI director James Comey
said during a House Intelligence Committee hearing
in March, two months before he was fired. “It’s
almost as if they didn’t care that we knew,” he added.
Comey suggested that Russia may have wanted the US government to
tell the public what Russia was doing, so as to “amplify” its
“Their loudness, in a way, would be counting on us to amplify it
by telling the American people what we saw and freaking people
out about how the Russians might be undermining our elections
successfully,” Comey said.
Many cybersecurity and Russia experts share the view that the
Russian hacking and disinformation campaign throughout the
election was highly conspicuous.
Digital footprints were left on the Democratic National Committee
and John Podesta hacks, which were sloppy and easy to link back
to the Kremlin, as state-sponsored Russian news agencies like
Russia Today and Sputnik openly backed Donald Trump.
American eavesdroppers, meanwhile, reportedly intercepted calls
between foreign nationals and Russian officials discussing the
presidential campaign — and between Michael Flynn and Russian
ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak discussing sanctions — a
similarly sloppy move, given the open secret that intelligence
agencies routinely spy on one another.
Automated Twitter accounts — many of them linked to Russia
by professional trolls being paid by the Kremlin —
flooded Twitter with pro-Trump rhetoric and made-up news
throughout the campaign and especially in the days leading up to
The bots favored
Trump by five to one, according to Sam Woolley of the
Oxford Internet Institute’s computational
propaganda research team.
The propaganda effort did not go unnoticed by intelligence
“A big difference to me in the past was, while there was
cyberactivity, we never saw in previous presidential elections
information being published on such a massive scale that had been
illegally removed both from private individuals as well as
organizations associated with the democratic process both inside
the government and outside the government,” Adm. Mike Rogers, the
director of the National Security Agency, said at the March
Thomas Pickering, the former US ambassador to Russia under Bill
Clinton, told CNN at the time that the flagrant nature of the
operation “was unusual.”
“Putin clearly wanted to deal the US a lesson, which helped him
promote his own national popularity at home,” Pickering said of
the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
Mark Kramer, the program director of the Project on Cold War
Studies at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian
Business Insider that this kind of noise
aligned with Putin’s desire to “stir public doubts about the
legitimacy of the elections in part because he expected Clinton
was going to win.”
“He wanted to portray her election as unfair and illegitimate,”
Indeed, Comey said in March that the Russians “hated her,
Secretary Clinton, wanted to harm her and thought they might have
a chance to help Mr. Trump.”
“And then later,” he continued, “they concluded that Mr. Trump
was hopeless and they would focus then on just trying to
undermine Secretary Clinton.”
that the Kremlin had ordered the
But he said that “patriotically
minded” Russians, whom he compared to artists, might have taken
it upon themselves “to fight against those who say bad things
about Russia,” according to the
New York Times.
While she was secretary of state, Hillary
Russia’s 2011 elections were “free, fair,
transparent” and called for a “full investigation”
of the election’s irregularities.
broke out in Russia shortly thereafter,
which Putin blamed largely on Clinton’s comments.
A successful operation
Comey and Rogers asserted at the March hearing that
the Russians most likely viewed the operation as successful given
the near-daily revelations about the Trump campaign’s contact
with Russia, including recently
disclosed meetings between Donald Trump Jr. and two Russians
last June and between Jared Kushner and the CEO of a
sanctioned Russian bank in December. Kushner and the CEO,
Sergey Gorkov, reportedly discussed setting up a secret
Reports emerged after
the inauguration in January that the Kremlin was getting nervous
about the chaos, because the government had been counting on
Trump to improve the US-Russia relationship. But Comey said
something Russia “may draw from this is that they were successful
because they introduced chaos and division and discord, and sowed
doubt about the nature of this amazing country of ours and our
“Their number one mission was to undermine the credibility of our
entire democracy enterprise of this nation,” Comey said at the
“I fully expect them to continue this — this level of activity,”
Rogers said. “Our sense is that they have come to the conclusion
that it generated a positive outcome for them in the sense” that
they’ve called into question the US’s democratic process.
“We have to assume they’re coming back,” Comey said.