It appears that we have a 2016 election hacking redux — a deja vu, all-over-again operation that shows the "Russian hoax" was and is real. In fact, it's so alive, still breathing and still in-our-faces calculating for chaos that the Russians even used the same methods we've come to know as Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear.
The New York Times and The Washington Post reported Monday night that Russian hackers have been at work on yet another cyber hack designed to influence yet another U.S. election. Again, apparently, in Donald Trump's favor.
"Russians Hacked Ukrainian Gas Company at Center of Impeachment," read the headline at nytimes.com.
"The Burisma hack is a cookie-cutter GRU campaign," Oren Falkowitz, an official of the Silicon Valley security firm that detected the hacking, told The Times. Falkowitz, co-founder of Area 1, also is a former U.S. National Security Agency worker. Additionally, a current American security official, who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence, said the Russian attacks on Burisma appear to be running parallel to an effort by Russian spies in Ukraine to dig up information that could embarrass former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination to oppose Trump.
We've seen this movie before. In 2016, the Russian GRU (formerly the KGB) hacked the emails of Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman and the Democratic National Committee. The Russians then took the material from that hack, spun it into twisted narratives and, as The Times put it, "built an echo chamber" through social media to widen its effect. Political and security officials believe the effort moved the views of just enough voters to give an Electoral College victory to Trump — a candidate who has been far more pliable for Russian purposes than Clinton was expected to be.
This new news drops in the run-up to Trump's impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate. Our 45th president was impeached in mid-December by the U.S. House of Representatives over his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter, who for a time held a paid seat on the board of Burisma.
In 2016, Trump stood in front of cameras and invited Russia to "find" Hillary Clinton's emails. Russia forthwith complied.
This time around, in July 2019 as Trump homed in on a 2020 re-election campaign, he talked by phone with the newly elected president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, asking him to investigate the Bidens and the Ukrainian energy company.
The investigation didn't happen — at least not by Ukraine. Some of the real patriots in our government heard the conversation and — per policy — recorded it. A whistleblower alerted national security officials that the president was pressuring a foreign country for his own personal political gain in exchange for U.S. military aid — congressionally allocated aid over which the president had ordered a hold. A quid pro quo.
Contact your senators
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee — 202-224-4944, www.alexander.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=Email
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee — 202-224-3344, www.blackburn.senate.gov/contact_marsha
Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Georgia — 202-224-3643, www.loeffler.senate.gov
Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia — 202-224-3521, www.perdue.senate.gov/connect/email
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama — 202-224-5744, www.shelby.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/emailsenatorshelby
Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama — 202-224-4124, www.jones.senate.gov/contact/email-doug
Trump repeatedly pushed Americans to "read the transcript" of the Ukrainian phone call.
Yes, please do. The transcript — actually a summary transcript — does not put the president in a more flattering light than the whistleblower's complaint. In fact, it drives home the very point of the complaint, and both have been corroborated by the ensuing congressional testimonies. As the Ukrainian president was asking about military arms to fight off an aggressive Russian invasion, Trump responded, "I would like you to do us a favor though." The favor — clearly noted in the transcript — turned out to be investigating the Bidens and investigating an unfounded theory about Ukrainian possession of the 2016 hacked Democratic email server. Trump believes that if Ukraine has the server, it clears Russia and, by extension, him, of allegations of conspiracy and obstruction reported in the Mueller Report.
Meanwhile in the GOP majority of the Senate, momentum is growing for Trump's impeachment trial to be fair — or at least to resemble fair — with witnesses, something Senate Majority Mitch McConnell has tried desperately to squelch.
That isn't all McConnell has tried to stall. There's a bill waiting on McConnell's desk that was passed by the House months ago to better protect our elections from foreign interference. Like so many other House-passed bills, it languishes because McConnell won't bring it up for a Senate vote.
Ask yourself why. Is it not an American value that foreign governments should not interfere with our country, our government and our elections?
In 2016, Trump stood on a stage and said, "Russia, if you're listening," please find my Democratic opponents' emails. In 2019, Trump was on the phone asking Ukraine to look into still another Democratic opponent. Later he stood in the White House driveway asking China to do it. And, yeah, Russia — always happy to stir chaos and distrust in our country without firing a shot — was listening again.
The fact that Russia's GRU didn't even try to hide the effort — that it used the same tired tells — sends a message loud and clear that it knows it can do this at will with no repercussions.
Not from Trump and not from the Senate — the same Senate that is about to try our president for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
How about that, Sen. Marsha Blackburn? How about it, Sen. Lamar Alexander? How much more malignancy in this president do you need to see to give him a fair trial and a boot?