Digital team’s role questioned
Senator wants look at Trump campaign efforts, fake news
The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee called for more investigation into the digital activities of Donald Trump’s campaign, over concerns about Russian-directed misinformation efforts to influence the presidential election.
Trump’s lawyer, speaking on several Sunday news shows, defended him in light of last week’s developments in the Russia investigations.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said he wants to look into the activities of Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that advised Trump’s campaign, as well as Trump’s digital efforts during the election because of the way false election stories about Hillary Clinton were circulated and targeted online.
“The ability to manipulate these search engines and some of these social media platforms is real; it’s out there,” Warner said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “We need information from the companies, as well as we need to look into the activities of some of the Trump digital campaign activities.”
Separately, on CBS’ Face the Nation, Warner said there were “trolls,” or paid individuals who worked for Russian services, who tried to interfere in the election and disseminate fake news.
The comments come as congressional committees
and the FBI continue to investigate Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election — and whether members of Trump’s campaign cooperated.
Questions intensified after revelations last week that the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., met in June 2016 with a Russian lawyer whom Trump Jr. believed to have information damaging to Clinton. Also at the meeting was Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s personal attorneys, appeared on multiple Sunday talk shows to say the meeting didn’t violate the law and that the president wasn’t aware of the meeting and didn’t participate.
“Nothing in that meeting that would have taken place, even if it was about the topic of an opposition research paper from a Russian lawyer, is illegal or a violation of the law,” Sekulow said on Fox News Sunday.
On ABC’s This Week, Sekulow said: “I wonder why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in. The president had Secret Service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me.”
The attorney’s focus on the legality of the meeting appeared aimed at moving beyond the shifting accounts of the meeting given by Trump Jr.
At first, the June 2016 meeting was said to be about a Russian adoption program. Then, it was to hear information about Clinton. Trump Jr. later released emails that revealed he had told an associate that he would “love” help in obtaining incriminating information about the Democratic nominee, even though the emails said the help was coming from a Russian government attorney.
The number of people known to have been at the meeting also changed over time. On Friday, Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet military officer, confirmed his participation.
The president himself came to the defense of his son, who he said “is being scorned by the Fake News Media.” The president ended a series of Sunday morning tweets by writing: “With all of its phony unnamed sources & highly slanted & even fraudulent reporting, #Fake News is DISTORTING DEMOCRACY in our country!”
On CNN, Warner pointed to what he called a “convenient pattern” of Kushner, now a senior White House adviser, and other members associated with the Trump administration having to amend disclosure forms to add meetings with Russians that they had neglected to report earlier.
“I’m not sure why we take anybody in the senior level of
the Trump administration at their word,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important that we’re going to get a chance to question these individuals and try to actually nail down the truth.”
Warner has said Trump Jr. is likely to be called to testify, and he said on CNN that he would also like to hear from Kushner and others.
The emails — which the younger Trump published on Twitter, pre-empting their release by The New York Times — were released as the White House contends that investigations of possible campaign collusion with Russia are nothing more than a “witch hunt.”
“This is about as clear of evidence you could find of intent by the campaign to collude with the Russians, to get useful information from the Russians,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said of Trump Jr.’s emails. Schiff is the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. He spoke on ABC’s This Week.
As Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller deepens his probe into campaign activities, the White House on Saturday confirmed it had hired Ty Cobb, a veteran Washington lawyer, as a special counsel. Cobb is expected to oversee the White House’s legal and media response to investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign.