Mary Anne Marsh: Russia, if you’re listening, it’s Donald Trump – again

It is November 3, 2020, Election Night in the United States. Late in the evening the networks declare that Donald Trump wins a second term. Despite trailing in the polls throughout the 2020 election, a last minute gallop through several key swing states seems to have provided Trump with the margin of victory again.

Or did it?

That is the question Trump will now confront on Election Night in November 2020 if he prevails…again.

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Last week, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC, Trump stated he would welcome the assistance of a foreign country in the 2020 election. That statement will raise questions about the legitimacy of Trump’s election if he returns to the White House in 2020. Did Russia help him in the 2020 election like I strongly believe they did in 2016? Did that help unfairly swing the election to Trump’s favor? What else did Russia do in 2020 to help Trump? All of these questions and more will throw even more doubt about Trump’s legitimacy in the wake of 2016.

And Trump has no one to blame but himself for it.

Of course, if Trump accepts, or has ever accepted, any assistance from any foreign country then it is a federal crime. The chair of the Federal Election Commission, Ellen Weintraub, made that clear in a tweet on June 13 about Trump’s willingness to accept foreign assistance that she prefaced with “I would not have thought that I needed to say this.”

Weintraub wrote: “Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for anyone to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. This is not a novel concept. Electoral intervention from foreign governments has been considered unacceptable since the beginning of our nation. Our founding fathers sounded the alarm about ‘foreign Interference, Intrigue, and Influence’. They knew when foreign governments seek to influence American politics, it is always to advance their interests, not America’s. Anyone who solicits or accepts foreign assistance risks being on the wrong end of a federal investigation. Any political campaign that receives an offer of a prohibited donation from a foreign source should report that offer to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

That begs the question why would Trump make such a statement? It is especially confounding since there are numerous published reports that tell us that questions about his supposed legitimacy as president bother Trump like no other.

Let’s take a look at the possibilities:

1.       Revelations that Trump/his campaign accepted Russian assistance in the 2016 election.

2.       Trump needs help from Russia to secure a second term.

3.       All of the above.

Trump is polling well behind six Democratic candidates in multiple states, including those that were instrumental to him in 2016. Trump hasn’t increased his base of support over the last three years. Rather it has decreased.

Lingering questions from the Mueller investigation about the 2016 election may have prompted Trump to make this disclosure. As stated in the Mueller Report, the Special Counsel referred 14 cases and one investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The 14 cases are working their way through various federal courts. The one investigation was referred by Mueller to the FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) providing evidence into Russia’s plan to gain access to our election systems across the country.

In fact, just over a week ago DHS announced it was seizing two election machines and 21 laptops from Durham County in North Carolina to examine whether Russia tampered with them in the 2016 election. Durham County was plagued with Election Day problems in 2016, including machine malfunctions that led to long delays at the polls. The vendor for Durham County is VR Systems, a Florida-based election software company that provides election software and electronic poll books.

Furthermore, on June 13, Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, pressed the FBI on the potential Russian hack of VR Systems. In a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Klobuchar and Wyden requested an explanation about what steps it took to investigate a possible hack of VR Systems by Russia, the extent of it, and whether malware was responsible for the failure of the electronic poll books.

In their joint statement, Klobuchar and Wyden stated “The Mueller Report revealed that “[i]n August 2016, GRU officers targeted employees of [redacted], a voting technology company that developed software used by numerous U.S. counties to manage voter rolls, and installed malware on the company network.” VR Systems publicly confirmed it is the unnamed voting technology company in the Mueller Report.

Another possibility is Trump believes information is about to be revealed in one of the Mueller cases. For the past several months, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan has threatened to release unredacted transcripts in the Michael Flynn case that appear to detail his conversations with former Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak. It also appears others in the transcripts had conversations with Kislyak but their names are redacted. Could that be the reason Trump felt compelled to make the statement he would accept assistance from a foreign government in his election? Could the conversations by others with Kislyak be revealed? Is it possible Trump is trying to get in front of this potential revelation so his base believes accepting assistance from a foreign government in an election is acceptable rather than a federal crime?

Or was it the appearance by Donald Trump, Jr., before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week? Once again, Trump Jr. was questioned under oath about his previous testimony to the same committee about the Trump Tower meeting with his fellow campaign associates Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, as well as several Russians including Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer with ties to the Kremlin.

Finally, perhaps Trump wants Russia’s help because he needs it to secure a second term in the White House. Trump is polling well behind six Democratic candidates in multiple states, including those that were instrumental to him in 2016. Trump hasn’t increased his base of support over the last three years. Rather it has decreased. As we learn more about the 2016 election, it may become even more evident that Russian interference in his first election was more substantial than previously thought and that would have a tremendous bearing on the 2020 election.

Clearly, there are numerous reasons for Trump to publicly state his willingness to accept assistance from a foreign government in the 2020 election. The fact that he also won’t support legislation to protect our elections from foreign interference raises even more questions. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to bring House-passed legislation to protect our election systems to the floor for a vote adds to those concerns.

Robert Mueller underscored how Russia tried to influence the results of the 2016 election in his report and in his May press conference. He detailed Russian operatives hacking into Democratic computers and releasing documents through WikiLeaks to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

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Mueller ended his press conference by stating, “I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments — that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election.” He added, “And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.”

Every American should rightfully raise questions about the legitimacy of Donald Trump as president if he prevails in 2020, not only because of the Mueller Report, but also because of Trump’s publicly stated willingness to accept help from a foreign government.

So Russia if you’re listening…it’s Donald Trump…again.

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