Sitting in the back rooms of Trump Tower, Donald Trump sat confidently in front of his flat screen TV. ABC News anchor, George Stephenopoulos’ raspy voice is droning on and on. More and more states are turning red. Any other presidential candidate would be nervously shaking, but Mr. Trump remains stoic. After many long, heated months of debates and campaigning, Trump is not the only one hoping that his hard work pays off. Across the Atlantic Ocean, Vladimir Putin is sitting in his office with his colleagues. He is holding a champagne bottle, ready to pop it. Everyone is hoping that all of their hard work did not go to waste. Putin has put in just as much effort as Trump.
Following intense investigation, the FBI has concluded that throughout the 2016 Presidential Election, Vladimir Putin launched an influential campaign in order to diminish Hillary Clinton’s reputation and prevent her from being elected President of the United States; although Russia did not directly hack election votes, Russia’s influential campaign did negatively affect many United States citizens’ views on Hillary Clinton and, without Russian involvement, some critics speculate that Donald J. Trump may not have been elected (“United” 7). Putin and Trump built a “bromance” that would help Trump win the 2016 Presidential Election.
Before Donald Trump ran for president, he was the owner of the Miss Universe Pageant (Isikoff and Corn 1). In 2013, Trump visited Moscow, where the Miss Universe Pageant was being held (Isikoff and Corn 1). During his time in Moscow, Trump shared numerous tweets and other comments that suggested an admiration towards Vladimir Putin (Kilbride). He tweeted, “Do you think Putin will be going to the Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow – if so, will he become my new best friend?” (Kilbride). Trump was very eager to meet Putin (Kilbride). He claimed that during his time in Moscow, Putin had been very nice and even sent him a gift (Kilbride). This admiration did not just go one way. Putin also praised Trump for his willingness to improve US-Russia relations (Kilbride). Both Putin and Trump praised each other on their leadership styles and personalities (Kilbride). This mutual praise suggested that they were best friends, however Putin and Trump had never met in person before Trump was elected President (Kilbride). As the US later found out, Putin would go to great lengths for his “friend”.
The two main election hacking threats imposed by Russia were manipulating voters and causing disruption (Agawu 6). Manipulating voters is influencing a voter by affecting their information environment (Agawu 6). Causing disruption is interfering with electoral proceedings which could undermine voter confidence or disrupt the ability to vote (Agawu 6). In January of 2017, American intelligence officials concluded that Russian operatives reporting to Putin interfered with the 2016 election in favor of Trump (Vesoulis and Simon). The FBI believes that Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election (“United” 7). The goals of this campaign were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency (“United” 7). Russia accomplished these goals by using propaganda across social media and leaking emails to a searchable website.
Russia Today, a Russian newspaper, covered consistently negative coverage of Secretary Clinton throughout the US presidential campaign (“United” 14). It focused on her leaked e-mails and accused her of corruption, poor physical and mental health, and ties to Islamic extremism (“United” 14). On 6 August, RT published an English-language video called “Julian Assange Special: Do WikiLeaks Have the E-mail That’ll Put Clinton in Prison?” and an exclusive interview with Assange called “Clinton and ISIS Funded by the Same Money.” (“United” 14). RT’s most popular video on Secretary Clinton, “How 100% of the Clintons’ ‘Charity’ Went to…Themselves,” had more than 9 million views on social media platforms (“United” 14). Some social media accounts that appear to be tied to Russia’s professional trolls started to advocate for President-elect Trump as early as December 2015 (“United” 14). According to Schnur and Wilson, on July 22, 2016, WikiLeaks released 20,000 DNC emails to a searchable database with the help of Russia. Most of these emails were common emails associated with a political campaign but others were damaging to the DNC and Clinton Campaign (Schnur and Wilson). For example, one leaked email revealed that Clinton cheated in debates by getting access to some of the questions ahead of time (Brazile). On March 12, 2016, Donna Brazile wrote an email to members of Clinton’s campaign regarding a question about the death penalty: “Here’s one that worries me about HRC. 19 states and the District of Columbia have banned the death penalty. 31 states, including Ohio, still have the death penalty. According to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, since 1973, 156 people have been on death row and later set free. Since 1976, 1,414 people have been executed in the U.S. That’s 11% of Americans who were sentenced to die, but later exonerated and freed. Should Ohio and the 30 other states join the current list and abolish the death penalty?” (Brazile)
In October 2016, WikiLeaks released the most damaging emails which were taken from John Podesta’s account (Schnur and Wilson). Russia’s wits and power allowed them to complete these tasks (Schnur and Wilson).
In 1999, Vladimir Putin became the president of Russia. He was re-elected in 2004, 2012, and 2018 (“Vladimir”). Putin and Trump appeared to be good friends and dislike Hillary Clinton. Putin and his minions would go to great lengths to help ensure that their best friend ended up in office, not their enemy. A Russian hacker group backed by Russian Intelligence named “Fancy Bear” was able to gain access to DNC and Clinton’s emails (Schnur and Wilson). Fancy Bear used URL shortening links from bit.ly (Schnur and Wilson). They disguised phishing links as password reset emails from Google to DNC staffers (Schnur and Wilson). Members of the DNC, such as John Podesta, received emails from Google, telling them that someone was trying to get into their email and to click on a link to reset their password (Schnur and Wilson).
When the members of the DNC clicked on the link, Fancy Bear gained access to all of their emails and to the DNC system and database (Schnur and Wilson). These emails were later released to a searchable database called WikiLeaks (Schnur and Wilson). These emails were damaging to the Clinton campaign and changed many voter’s views on Clinton (Schnur and Wilson). Vladimir Putin also hired paid social media workers called trolls. As early as December 2015, Russian trolls began openly advocating for Trump all over social media. The financier of the Internet Research Agency of professional trolls in Saint Petersburg is a close Putin ally and has ties to Russian Intelligence (“United” 14). The trolls posted about scandals revolving around Hillary Clinton (“United” 14). The Russians used many tactics to diminish Hillary Clinton and promote Donald Trump.
The final vote tallies have been counted. Donald J. Trump has been elected President of the United States! Trump jumps for joy! His family is in shock. Putin pops the champagne bottle, spraying champagne all over his office! Their hard work has paid off. Vladimir Putin’s influential campaign was launched in order to diminish Hillary Clinton’s reputation and prevent her from being elected President of the United States; without Russian trolls, propaganda, and their hacking groups, some critics speculate that Donald J. Trump may not have been elected. If Putin had not interfered with the election, Donald Trump may not have become president.
It is important that we understand how the Russians were able to interfere with the election and how hackers got into the DNC networks so that we can prevent this from ever happening again. Donald Trump is already speculating that it could happen in the 2020 election. In July of 2018 he tweeted “I am very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election. Based on the fact that no President has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don’t want Trump!” (@realDonaldTrump).