The Russian influence campaign during the 2016 election was sophisticated not just on a technical level, but in terms of its understanding of American politics and the internal dynamics of the Democratic Party. Sophisticated enough to raise the question of whether the Russians were helped by any Americans, especially Americans with professional experience in politics and/or direct involvement in the 2016 campaign — a question whose relevance has only grown stronger now that we know Donald Trump Jr., at a minimum, was actively interested in collaborating with the Russian government.
When Trump Jr. agreed to meet with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, he was seeking dirt — negative information — about Hillary Clinton. He thought the Russian government might be in possession of such information and willing to provide it. According to his own account of the meeting, “it quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”
But what’s fascinating is that in a crucial sense, the Russians never came up with meaningful information about Clinton. Nothing uncovered in either the hacks of the Democratic National Committee servers or John Podesta’s inbox revealed anyone doing anything illegal. What they did instead was exacerbate internal tensions within the Democratic Party. And in the case of the DNC hack, they did so in an expertly timed way.
Information that was bound to anger supporters of Bernie Sanders’s campaign was released at precisely the right moment to derail the unity exercise of the party’s national convention in Philadelphia. That Donald Trump Jr.’s emails with Veselnitskaya specifically note that “especially later in the summer” would be an ideal time for collaboration is particularly eye-opening.
If the information had come out earlier or later, it would have been much less potent. But releasing the documents the weekend before the convention began managed to put a pall of conflict over the first several days of the proceedings.