U.S. officials have informed Senator Bernie Sanders that Russia is attempting to aid his presidential campaign in an effort to interfere in the 2020 Democratic primary, the Washington Post reported on Friday. It’s not yet clear how Russia is backing Sanders this time around, but in its efforts to help elect President Trump in 2016, the Kremlin used social media to support the Sanders campaign and fuel discord and division among the U.S. electorate to weaken support for Hillary Clinton.
Sanders told the Post, “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.” Speaking with reporters on the campaign trail, Sanders later confirmed the briefing had taken place about a month ago.
During Wednesday night’s Democratic debate in Nevada, Sanders cited 2016 while suggesting that some of the vitriol his supporters have directed at union officials in Nevada, among others, may have come from Russian operatives pretending to be his supporters. “All of us remember 2016, and what we remember is efforts by Russians and others to try to interfere in our elections and divide us up,” he said after claiming that 99.9 percent of his supporters on Twitter are decent people who were behaving themselves. “I’m not saying that’s happening, but it would not shock me,” he added on the potential Russia connection. It now appears he may have known more than he let on at the time.
President Trump, meanwhile, is once again getting support from Russia for his reelection bid, according to intelligence officials. This week, acting director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire and his staff reportedly briefed lawmakers on the efforts, explaining that Russian attempts to interfere in the 2020 election have revealed a “preference” for Trump. The president, who was reportedly enraged that Democrats had been informed of such an assessment, fired Maguire and named hard-core Trump loyalist (and current U.S. ambassador to Germany) Richard Grenell to the role — prompting a new wave of widespread fears over Trump’s ongoing attempt to consolidate his power after his impeachment acquittal.
According to the Post, the president and Congress had been informed of Russia’s attempts to aid Sanders, but it’s not clear if leaking the apparently month-old briefing was somehow related to the newly reported intel assessment regarding Russia’s help for Trump. Regardless of where the report came from, Sanders was definitely not pleased about it. When asked on Friday why he thought the news was finally coming out, he responded, “I’ll let you guess, about one day before the Nevada caucus — why do you think it came out?”