By Jennifer Cohn, 5/5/22
Russia’s attack on America’s election infrastructure in 2016 has been largely forgotten amidst the many other legitimate concerns about that election and later events. Those other concerns and events warrant our attention and include the far right’s coordinated amplification of disinformation through bots and fake news outlets (like OANN and Newsmax), as well as Trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 election with lies, propaganda, and physical intimidation via right wing extremist groups.
But Russia’s attack on America’s election infrastructure in 2016 warrants our attention too. In my opinion, Trump would have had a much more difficult time hijacking the election-security narrative in 2020 if the federal government had leveled with the American people about the severity of the 2016 attack and the vulerabilities that existed and if the Democratic party had made election security a key element of its platform and messaging in the aftermath of that attack. Moreover, the country still has not addressed some of the election-system vulnerabilities that left us open to attack in 2016. Because the federal government has unwisely (in my opinion) “moved on” from that attack, all urgency for passing federal election-security legislation seems to have vanished.
The following is my attempt to compile what we know about the circumstances leading to and surrounding the 2016 election-infrastructure attack. I begin with a brief history of Ukraine because what occurred there between the early 2000’s and 2014 set the stage for what occurred in America in 2016.
1. Paul Manafort’s work in Ukraine
After Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, many Ukrainians wanted the country to join the European Union. But Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, wanted Ukraine to join with Russia in forming a Eurasian Union. This has resulted in a seemingly never-ending tug-of-war between Russia and the West regarding Ukraine’s future.