The Russia Probe Is Now Focusing On Trump's Digital Campaign

Did people in Trump's campaign work with Russian operatives? Looking at Trump's digital campaign might help yield an answer.
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The Russia Probe Is Now Focusing On Trump's Digital Campaign

The key question in the Trump-Russia investigations: Did people in Trump's campaign work with Russian operatives? Looking at Trump's digital campaign might help give us an answer.

"I think we have pretty good evidence that Russian intelligence reached out to Americans during the course of the campaign; I mean that's incontrovertible," said Michael Carpenter, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia. 

Carpenter said the collaboration likely happened in the digital realm.

"Especially with swing voters in say western Michigan or Wisconsin," Carpenter said. "If you want to appeal to a particular demographic — say, women between the age of 35 and 50 — you want to appear convincing to these types of people. That's where it helps to have someone on the inside that knows how to tailor the message that is effective and resonates with that particular audience you are trying to target and also crucially where to target the disinformation. A lot of Americans didn't think that Wisconsin or Michigan were in play, yet we saw a lot of Russian disinformation targeted at those states so clearly they either had a very sophisticated understanding of our electoral system and what was happening in real time, or they were relying on folks here."

The Trump campaign's digital strategy was overseen by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a senior adviser to the president. McClatchy reports investigators are looking at whether Trump's digital team collaborated with Russian operatives to target swing voters.

And their digital campaign in the Rust Belt might have really made a difference. Clinton lost the key states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by a slim margin. In Michigan, she needed only about 5,000 votes to take the state.

And while the Trump team did its work, Russia-linked digital outlets also spread damaging and often false information.

"This fake news and disinformation was then hyped by the American media echo chamber and our own social media networks to reach and potentially influence millions of Americans,"  said Sen. Mark Warner during a Senate intelligence committee hearing on Russia's involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. "This is not innuendo or false allegations. This is not fake news."

"The notion that they would have sophisticated understanding of the geopolitics and internal political landscape in each of these countries is to me hard to believe," Carpenter said. "I mean, you rely on insiders to allow you to be able to target, as I said, the disinformation."

Trump's campaign denies working with Russia. Brad Parscale, its social media adviser, said in a statement posted to his Twitter account that he's unaware of any Russian involvement in the digital and data operations.

With all this focus on Kushner's digital operation — and on his undisclosed meetings with Russian operatives — many members of Congress are calling for Kushner to lose his security clearance. That's something the Trump White House hasn't budged on.