Donald Trump’s son-in-law and chief White House adviser Jared Kushner raised eyebrows Tuesday as he sought to downplay Russia’s attack on the nation’s 2016 elections as nothing more than a little social media horseplay.
“I think the investigations, and all of the speculation that’s happened for the last two years, has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads,” Kushner told the audience at a Time 100 summit. Kushner went on to note that Russia spent just $160,000 on Facebook ads, as if Russia’s efforts were confined to a pittance.
But what Kushner advanced is tantamount to a Russian disinformation campaign—spreading lies and stoking doubts about conclusions that both the FBI and the Justice Department have reached regarding Russia’s cyber-assault on a U.S. presidential election. By contrast, special counsel Robert Mueller called Russia’s efforts “sweeping and systematic” and he ultimately indicted 25 Russian nationals and three Russian entities involved in the scheme. With regard to Facebook alone, Mueller’s report cited 470 Russian troll accounts posting 80,000 times during the election and well into 2017, reaching some 126 million people. Additionally, Kushner’s flagrant “couple of Facebook ads” spin says nothing of the millions Russia spent to resource its social media troll farm and its conspiracy to hack the DCCC, DNC, and Hillary’s Clinton presidential campaign, and then disseminate the stolen material.
But Kushner’s smoke screen is just part and parcel of Trump’s entire posture toward Russia’s outright attack on our democracy. Trump, partly due to ego and perhaps even Russian leverage, has always sought to sow confusion about Russia’s 2016 efforts. From Trump’s imaginary 400-pound guy in New Jersey, to his 2018 Helsinki assertion, standing beside Russian President Vladimir Putin, that he didn’t “see any reason why it would be” Russia that perpetrated the attack, to his utterly indefensible lack of concern about securing future elections, Trump has been a walking, talking Russian disinformation campaign ever since he first opened his mouth on the topic during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump has also had multiple chances to reset his narrative, and yet he’s ignored every one of them: the public release of the intelligence community’s estimate following the 2016 election, Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russian military officers in July 2018, and the definitive release of the redacted Mueller report last week. Trump could have used any single one of those moments as a pivot point to get on the right side of America’s national security interests, regardless of what he had said in the past. In fact, any American president other than Trump would have seized on such an opportunity, because ignoring the facts as uncovered by intelligence professionals, investigators, and career prosecutors amounts to a dereliction of duty. Regardless of one’s reasons, declining to acknowledge these revelations and claim the mantle of protecting America from a foreign adversary is effectively doing the dirty work of that adversary—Russia, in this case. Just imagine, for instance, if Trump had used his “total exoneration” moment to riff off of Mueller’s report and redefine the real threat as Russia, rather than calling for dictatorial investigations of the investigators.