Russian Propaganda Adopted By Republicans While Trump Heads For Trial

On Sunday, Representative Michael R. Turner (R-OH), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said it is “absolutely true” that Republican members of Congress are parroting Russian propaganda. “We see directly coming from Russia attempts to mask communications that are anti-Ukraine and pro-Russia messages, some of which we even hear being uttered on the House floor,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union.

Turner was being questioned about an interview in which Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Russia specialist Julia Ioffe that “Russian propaganda has made its way into the United States, unfortunately, and it’s infected a good chunk of my party’s base.” McCaul blamed right-wing media. When asked which Republicans he was talking about, McCaul answered that it is “obvious.” 

Catherine Belton and Joseph Menn reviewed more than 100 internal Kremlin documents from 2022 and 2023 obtained by a European intelligence service and reported in the Washington Post today that the Russian government is running “an ongoing campaign that seeks to influence congressional and other political debates to stoke anti-Ukraine sentiment.” Kremlin-backed trolls write fake “news articles, social media posts and comments that promote American isolationism, stir fear over the United States’ border security and attempt to amplify U.S. economic and racial tensions” while claiming that “Biden’s policies are leading the U.S. toward collapse.”

Aaron Blake pointed out in the Washington Post that Republicans are increasingly warning that Russian propaganda has fouled their party. Blake notes that Russia specialist Fiona Hill publicly told Republicans during the 2019 impeachment inquiry into Trump that they were repeating “politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests,” but Republicans angrily objected. 

Now Senators Mitt Romney (R-UT), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and John Cornyn (R-TX) and a top aide to Senator Todd Young (R-IN), as well as former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and even Trump’s vice president Mike Pence, have warned about the party’s ties to Russia. Former Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) has said the Republican Party now has “a Putin wing.” 

Trump has hinted that he has a plan to end Russia’s war in Ukraine in 24 hours. Yesterday, Isaac Arnsdorf, Josh Dawsey, and Michael Birnbaum reported in the Washington Post on the details of that plan: he would accept Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and the Donbas region. He refuses to say how he would negotiate with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky, who has been adamant that Ukraine will not give up its territory to an invader, or Russia president Vladmir Putin, who has claimed all of Ukraine, but after meeting with Trump last month, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán said Trump told him he would accomplish “peace” by cutting off funds to Ukraine.

Trump’s team said Orbán’s comment was false, but it is worth noting that this plan echoes the one acknowledged by Trump’s 2016 campaign director Paul Manafort as the goal of Russian aid to Trump’s campaign.

Fiona Hill told the Washington Postreporters that Trump’s team “is thinking…that this is just a Ukraine-Russia thing…rather than one about the whole future of European security and the world order.”

Trump’s MAGA loyalists in the House of Representatives have held up funding for Ukraine for six months. Although a national security supplemental bill that would fund Ukraine has passed the Senate and would pass the House if it were brought to the floor, House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) refuses to bring it to the floor. The House returns to work tomorrow after a two-week recess but is so backed up on work that Johnson is not expected to bring up the Ukraine measure this week.  

Clint Watts, the head of Microsoft’s Threat Analysis Center, told the Washington Post’s Belton and Menn: “The impact of the Russian program over the last decade…is seen in the U.S. congressional debate over Ukraine aid…. They have had an impact in a strategic aggregate way.” 

The Trump loyalists echoing Russia who have taken control of the Republican Party appear to be hardening into a phalanx around the former president, but even as they do so, Trump himself appears to be crumbling. 

In the week since Trump posted a $175 million appeals bond, halting the seizure of his properties to satisfy the $454 million judgment against him and the Trump Organization, multiple problems with that bond have come to light. It is possible the bond isn’t worth anything at all, and New York attorney general Letitia James has filed papers to require Trump’s lawyers or the bond underwriter to show that it’s good within ten days. A hearing is set for April 22.

Meanwhile, Trump’s trial for election interference in 2016, when he paid people with damaging information to keep quiet before the election and falsified business records to hide those payments, is set to begin on April 15. Evidently very worried about this trial, Trump has already tried eight times to delay it until after November’s election, and today his lawyers tried yet again by requesting a delay so he could fight to get the trial moved to a different venue, but an appeals judge rejected the attempt.

Aside from Trump’s personal problems as a presidential candidate, the Republicans face strong headwinds because of their deeply unpopular opposition to abortion rights. Trump has openly bragged about being the instrument for ending the rights recognized in the United States since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. Since then, abortion bans are galvanizing opposition, and the Republicans are trying to find a message that can bring back angry voters without antagonizing the antiabortion white evangelicals who make up their base. 

After months of waffling on the issue, Trump today released a video trying to thread that needle by echoing the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. Trump said in the video that states will decide the issue for themselves, a statement that simply reflects the Dobbs decision. 

This was a dodge. In the video, Trump appealed to the antiabortion loyalists by telling the ghoulish lie that women are “executing” their babies even after birth. He also ignored that Republicans are already calling for a national ban, extremist antiabortion Texas judge Matthew Kacsmaryk has tried to take the common abortion drug mifepristone off the national market by challenging its FDA approval, and legislatures in many Republican-dominated states are refusing to implement the will of the people to protect abortion rights even after they have voted for such protections. 

Still, antiabortion leaders, including Mike Pence, immediately slammed Trump’s statement.

The video did, though, make an enormously interesting and unintended point: Trump is communicating with voters outside his carefully curated bubble almost exclusively through videos, even on a topic as important as abortion. At rallies, his speeches have become erratic and wandering, with occasional slurred words, and observers have wondered how he would present to more general audiences. It appears that his team has concluded that he will not present well and that general audiences must see him in carefully curated settings, like this apparently heavily edited video.

The Trump takeover of the Republican National Committee (RNC) also appears to be in trouble. This weekend, Trump claimed to have raised $50 million in a single night from billionaires, but that number is conveniently a little more than double the new record of what President Joe Biden raised at an event last week with former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and it is long past time for everyone to stop believing anything Trump says about money. 

More to the point, The Guardian’s Hugo Lowell reported today that the RNC’s aggressive purge of the staff to guarantee that positions are held only by Trump loyalists means that “the RNC has been left without people with deep knowledge of election operations at the Republican party’s central committee.” Lowell notes this lack is especially apparent on the RNC’s data team, which is being moved from Washington, D.C., to Palm Beach, Florida, near Mar-a-Lago.

And yet Trump loyalists continue to block aid to Ukraine, threatening the existence of the rules-based international order that has helped to prevent war since World War II. Last week, even Trump’s former secretary of state Mike Pompeo warned Speaker Johnson against “abandoning our Allies at this time of great need, when they are staring down enemies of the free world.”

Leave a Reply