Bernie Sanders’ campaign was told by U.S. officials that the Russian government is trying to help him win the White House, the Washington Examiner reported Friday.
The Washington Post first revealed that the Vermont senator’s campaign had been notified of the development. The Post said it is unclear what sort of “assistance” Russia provided to Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, however.
Soon after the Post issued its report, Sanders’ campaign released a statement denouncing Russian leader Vladimir Putin and declaring that the senator stands “firmly against” efforts by the Kremlin “and any other foreign power that wants to interfere in our election.”
“Unlike Donald Trump, I do not consider Vladimir Putin a good friend. He is an autocratic thug who is attempting to destroy democracy and crush dissent in Russia,” Sanders said, according to the Examiner.
He went on: “I don’t care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president. My message to Putin is clear: stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.”
“It never stopped”
According to the Examiner, U.S. officials have also said that the Kremlin is trying to help President Donald Trump win re-election in 2020. While White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien denied as much in an appearance on ABC’s This Week, the notion lends credence to Sanders’ assertion in his Friday statement that “the Russians want to undermine American democracy by dividing us up.”
Indeed, Russia has long been blamed for interfering in the 2016 election, though a federal investigation headed by Robert Mueller failed to find evidence that Trump himself acted nefariously. Mueller’s probe did end with indictments for more than a dozen Russian nationals, according to the Examiner, but it doesn’t seem to have deterred “disinformation efforts.”
In fact, FBI Director Christopher Wray told the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month that Russian interference hasn’t stopped.
“It never stopped,” he testified, according to the Examiner. “It happened in 2016, and it’s been continuing ever since then. It may have an uptick during an election cycle, but it’s a 24/7, 365 days a year threat… We assess that the Russians continue to engage in malign foreign influence efforts.”
White House on the offensive
For its part, the White House has responded to reports about the Kremlin helping Sanders by jumping on the offensive. O’Brien said during his appearance on ABC on Sunday that he isn’t surprised the Russians would help Sanders.
“The president has rebuilt the American military to an extent we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan, so I don’t think it’s any surprise that Russia, or China, or Iran would want somebody other than President Trump,” O’Brien said, according to Business Insider.
Indeed, if Russia wants a weaker America, it’s clear why they would try to work against Trump rather than for him. Only time will tell if their meddling pays off.