Since last summer, US officials have publicly accused the Russian government of interfering in the US presidential election by having computer hackers steal data from the Democratic Party and individuals associated with its presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Now, in an apparent attempt at tit-for-tat retaliation, Russian lawmakers are accusing US media outlets of doing the same in Russia's 2016 parliamentary election.
The accusations, brought by the chair of the State Duma Committee on Information and Communication Outlets, Leonid Levin, are that news organizations that receive federal support, as well as those that do not, like CNN, "are part of a larger American system of pressure on our country." The news was reported by multiple Russian media outlets, including The Moscow Times and Sputnik News.
Levin added, "They are using a variety of instruments in respect to both the Russian electoral process and on our country as a whole."
Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.
Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.
Outgoing Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak is the Russian official U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions -- communication Sessions denied during his Senate committee hearing testimony.
Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with "Guccifer 2.0" -- an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”
Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
The American intelligence community accused Putin in Jan. 2017 of ordering a campaign to undermine trust in the American electoral process, developing a clear preference for Trump as president. "We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report read.
Comey publicly confirmed in March an FBI inquiry into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. “The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” Comey stated.
Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.
Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.
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The investigation will look at outlets such as Voice of America and Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, which receive financial support from the US government for news programming targeted at non-US audiences. It will also include outlets not under government control.
The move is in response to an effort in the US Senate to give greater scrutiny Kremlin-backed outlets, like the television station RT, that target audiences in the US.
"The US Senate is considering a bill that would grant the Department of Justice, of which the FBI is a part, additional powers to investigate potential violations of US law by the RT America television network," Levin said during a hearing on Tuesday. "Similar claims have also sounded in relation toward the Sputnik news agency, and other Russian media. They continue to accuse [these media] of trying to influence the presidential election in the United States, and of attempts to undermine confidence in the voting process itself."
The lawmakers heard from a media analyst who testified that the coverage of the Russian elections by US-based media, while limited, was biased in favor of opposition parties and against United Russia, the ruling party of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
"The coverage of the elections was quite one-sided," said Alexandra Dodorina, head of the media analytics firm M13. "It was quite rare to see a clash of opinions among speakers representing differing political forces, different views."
However, in a sign that the Kremlin may not be taking the investigation completely seriously, Levin said that Tuesday's hearing would be the first and the last time the committee considers the issue.
"We have decided not to go the formal route, and will not ask for dry briefings from state agencies," Levin said. "Today we see no need to do so." Instead, he said that he would direct staff to prepare a report that will be submitted to the head of the Duma.
The Russian hearings appear, in part, to be a reaction to a move by New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's introduction of a measure to bring outlets like RT America under closer supervision, charging that they operate as foreign agents in the US.
"Our bill will give the Department of Justice new and necessary authority to investigate potential violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act by RT America," Shaheen said on the Senate floor, in remarks that the Kremlin-backed Sputnik News service described as a "rant."
"This act was passed in the late 1930s in response to concerns about Nazi propaganda being disseminated in the United States without people knowing what it was. Well, this, I think, is absolutely appropriate today for us to take a look at what Russia and other countries may be doing to our news."