During his news conference on Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) downplayed Russia’s attack on U.S. democracy.
In comments that amounted to an extremely mild rebuke of President Trump, Ryan acknowledged that Russia did in fact interfere in the 2016 election, but in the next breath asserted they didn’t impact votes.
“They did interfere in our elections, it’s really clear — there should be no doubt about that,” Ryan said. “It’s also clear that it didn’t have a material effect on our elections.”
It is not clear, however, what exact role Russian hacking and disinformation played in Trump’s victory. In fact, special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officials for hacking Democratic targets suggests Russian hacking may have played a more significant role than was previously believed.
For instance, the indictment alleges that “in or around September 2016,” Russian hackers “successfully gained access to DNC computers hosted on a third-party cloud-computing service. These computers contained test applications related to the DNC’s analytics. After conducting reconnaissance, the Conspirators gathered data by creating backups, or ‘snapshots,’ of the DNC’s cloud-based systems using the cloud provider’s own technology.”
I keep coming back to this paragraph. Broke in again after original break in. After they were clearly in contact with top Trumpers. Second time focused on analytics, actionable data if you’re running the other campaign, especially if you’re doing complex targeting. pic.twitter.com/RWZqGD8sUx
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) July 14, 2018
At the time of that incursion, Russian hackers had already been in direct contact with Trump advisers. Shortly after stealing the DNC’s data, the Trump campaign shifted their advertising spending into states that would ultimately play a key role in Trump’s victory, which ultimately was decided by roughly 80,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Coincidence? Maybe, but we know:
-Russia hacked DNC analytics sometime in Sept
-Early Oct, Trump campaign abruptly redirected their ad spending, claimed changes were "data driven"
-New ad investments were heavily in states that narrowly handed Trump the electoral college
— 𝙹𝚞𝚕𝚒𝚎 (@resisterhood) July 14, 2018
Beyond the still-unanswered question of whether the Trump campaign was given access to DNC data stolen by Russian hackers, the latest Mueller indictment also indicates hackers stole the personal information of about half a million voters from a company widely believed to be Florida-based VR systems.
As the Philadelphia Inquirer details, voters in the key swing state of North Carolina — which Trump won by 177,000 votes — faced long lines to cast ballots after voting software managed by VR Systems encountered problems.
This is how one actually hacks an election. One doesn’t change the vote count. One alters the voter registration rolls so that when you present your ID to vote, your name is not there, or your address is wrong, etc. And then a huge line forms and hundreds of people don’t vote. https://t.co/KltcQf8K7R
— Aaron Astor (@AstorAaron) July 13, 2018
And, of course, the indictment Mueller filed in February against 13 individuals and a trio of Russian companies for “interference operations targeting the United States” detailed how Russia allegedly masterminded a well-funded disinformation campaign aimed at helping Trump by discrediting Hillary Clinton — one that may have swayed the voting decisions of a significant number of Americans.
So while there’s still no evidence that Russian hackers physically changed vote totals, there are ample indications that “their work,” as Trump euphemistically characterized it over the weekend, did indeed have a material effect on the election.