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Trump Now Rewriting History to Deny Russia Wanted Him to Win in 2016

Intelligencer logo Intelligencer 5/14/2020 Jonathan Chait
Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump are posing for a picture: Jorge Silva/AFP via Getty Images © Jorge Silva/AFP via Getty Images Jorge Silva/AFP via Getty Images

Three years ago, American intelligence unanimously concluded that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election had been designed, in part, to damage Hillary Clinton. But Trump has never accepted this finding, as it is woven into the narrative of his corrupt (if not provably criminal) relationship with Moscow. In 2018, a report by Devin Nunes’s House Intelligence Committee ludicrously disputed the conclusion Russia even intervened on Trump’s side at all.

Now that Trump has installed political loyalist Rick Grenell as director of National Intelligence, they are trying to undo that finding. Last night, Fox News reporter Ed Henry excitedly reported to Tucker Carlson that Grenell has produced documents questioning the conclusion Russia opposed Clinton at all. Trump cites that “report” in a new interview with Fox’s Maria Bartiromo.

“Now it’s all come out that actually they wanted Hillary Clinton — you saw that one came out yesterday — they wanted Hillary Clinton to win,” Trump declared. “Nobody’s been tougher — you can speak to Putin or anybody else — nobody has been tougher on Russian than I have. They wanted Hillary Clinton to win.”

Trump is not clever enough to realize that “I’m the toughest president on Russia, just ask Putin” is an obviously self-refuting defense.

In any case, you don’t need to rely on the conclusions of intelligence officials to see that Russia developed a strong anti-Clinton, pro-Trump preference in the 2016 election. You don’t even need to consider any of the surrounding facts that make this preference obvious, like Trump’s financial ties with Moscow, or the icy hostility that grew out of Clinton’s tenure as secretary of State. A handful of very well-known data points include:

1. Both Russia’s domestic and international-facing propaganda organs openly touted Trump and attacked Clinton throughout the campaign.

2. Russian hackers stole Democratic Party emails and attempted to steal Clinton’s immediately after Trump asked them to do so on national television.

3. A Russian agent held a meeting with top Trump campaign officials in 2016 to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton that was advertised in an email to Donald Trump Jr. as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Robert Mueller’s inability to pierce the protective shield around Trump and prove a criminal conspiracy between him and Russia gave Trump’s defenders a fig leaf to insist that there was absolutely no collusion between the two. You might think that getting them to deny Russia even wanted Trump to win would be a bridge too far, given the insultingly obvious nature of Russia’s preference.

But as Trump has gained more control over the government’s intelligence and law-enforcement apparatus, he has successfully turned it into an organ to promote his twisted narrative. And he has brought nearly the entirety of his party along with him. There is almost no Trumpian lie too outrageous for the faithful to accept. Russia didn’t even want Trump to win. They were trying to help Hillary! That’s why they hacked her emails — they were trying to help her win. Just ask Putin! Good ol’ Vlad, he’s a straight shooter, he’ll tell you.

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