Justice Department filing contradicts Kushner's view of Russia threat

Source: Politico | April 23, 2019 | Natasha Bertrand

Jared Kushner, in his first public comments since the public release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report, on Tuesday downplayed the impact of Russian interference in the 2016 election, which saw his father-in-law win the Oval Office.

“You look at what Russia did, buying some Facebook ads and trying to sow dissent. It’s a terrible thing,” Kushner, who is also one of President Donald Trump’s senior advisers, said at a Time magazine event in New York. “But I think the investigations and all of the speculation that’s happened for the last two years has a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple Facebook ads.”

The Justice Department, however, is offering a starkly different assessment of the potential dangers of a Russian intelligence operation for U.S. national security — and argues that it doesn’t take a master spy to do serious harm.

In a little-noticed court filing on Friday, an expert witness for the government, Robert Anderson Jr., a former assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, outlined how the activities of the Russian gun-rights activist Maria Butina during the election contained all the hallmarks of a sophisticated intelligence operation.

Anderson’s declaration has spawned a new fight between the government and Butina’s lawyers, who countered that it was speculative and blurred the line between informal networking and clandestine intelligence operations.

But the filing also sheds new light on how the Justice Department views the ongoing threat of Russian attempts to influence American politics, and goes well beyond what Mueller’s team was able to say in its 448-page report.

Allowing Russia to “bypass formal channels of diplomacy, win concessions, and exert influence within the United States” by entertaining backchannel lines of communication could result in “commensurate harm to the United States, including harm to the integrity of the United States’ political processes and internal government dealings, as well as to U.S. foreign policy interests and national security,” Anderson wrote.

Butina created a plan called the “Diplomacy Project” in March 2015 aimed at cultivating Republican presidential candidates and their advisers and reporting her progress back to Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia.

She also tried to connect members of the National Rifle Association with Kremlin officials in December 2015 during a trip to Moscow, prosecutors say, and held U.S.-Russia “friendship dinners” to “exert the speediest and most effective influence on the process of making decisions in the American establishment,” according to a document she wrote during the election.

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