Senate Democrat Asserts Russians Needed Help on Facebook

The Senate’s top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee claimed Tuesday that Russian operatives are too dull-witted to engage in successful targeting of American voters on Facebook — without help.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) told CNN that the “million-dollar question” was how the Russians knew how to target areas in the United States that could help swing the presidential election.

Warner is implying the Russians had smarter help — from the campaign of President Donald Trump. But he has no proof. The best he could suggest to CNN was that some evidence may be on the way.

Warner is engaged in an apparent effort not only to smear Trump's presidential win on November 8, but also to force Facebook to make public some of the ads it ran on behalf of sketchy Facebook accounts before Election Day.

And even as Facebook only began sharing data with Congress on Monday, Warner went to CNN to continue the suggestions and innuendo about the Trump presidential campaign he started making last spring.

"Did they know this just by following political news in America?" Warner said to CNN on Tuesday. "Did they geo-target both geography and by demographics in ways that at least at first blush appear pretty sophisticated? These are the kind of questions that we need to get answered, and that's why we need them in a public hearing."

Warner made similar comments to Brian Stelter on CNN's Sunday show, "Reliable Sources." Stelter failed to ask Warner tough questions about his theories.

And Warner has also been selling his social media theories to McClatchy newspapers, whose Washington bureau has repeated them at least twice since Trump was inaugurated on January 20.

McClatchy reporters Greg Gordon and Peter Stone have written that conservatives were used by Russian operatives to guide information into the hands of voters via social media. They used an interview that Warner gave to Pod Save America (a Democratic web show run by former Obama aides) in which he expressed astonishment that a space-capable nation knows how to target areas and precincts through Facebook inside America.

"I get the fact that the Russian intel services could figure out how to manipulate and use the bots [social media programs]," Warner said. "Whether they could know how to target states and levels of voters that the Democrats weren't even aware [of] really raises some questions … How did they know to go to that level of detail in those kinds of jurisdictions?"

Warner told the podcast in July that the Russians appear to have targeted women and African-Americans in two of the three decisive states, Wisconsin and Michigan, "where the Democrats were too brain-dead to realize those states were even in play." Warner's quotes were used in a July story by McClatchy.

But Warner's theory appears to be heavily contingent on believing the Russians are too ill-informed to understand U.S. politics. Warner also appears to forget that the Russian government has sophisticated lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., and one of the largest embassy compounds of any foreign nation.

Russia is also a space-capable nation that the United States pays to transport its astronauts to the International Space Station.

And, of course, the Russians have nuclear missiles and nuclear-powered submarines.

But to Warner, it's unimaginable the Russians could have used Facebook advertising tools to run ads in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — if that is indeed what the Russians did. Still, Warner told CNN that it's "too early to tell" if the Trump campaign aided the Russians in targeting voters with their "phony" Facebook accounts.

Facebook began turning over information to Congress on Monday about 450 "inauthentic" accounts that were reportedly used to influence voters during the 2016 presidential election. It's unclear if Warner is asserting this activity is illegal.

Even coordination between Russian government operatives and a presidential campaign is not likely illegal, according to such legal experts as Harvard University's Alan Dershowitz and Michael Mukasey, President George W. Bush's last attorney general.

Mukasey has told CNN in the past that Russian "collusion" with the Trump campaign is not illegal.

"I haven't heard anybody identify a crime that has been committed," Mukasey told CNN's Erin Burnett on February 27. "Where is the crime? We haven't even named a crime, let alone suggested that charges are going to be brought."

(photo credit, homepage and article images: Mark Warner, Flickr)

Last Modified: October 10, 2017, 12:56 pm

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