Walk into a room full of people and turn off the lights. It will get their attention. If hackers shut off electricity to parts of the United States, perhaps the personal impact of Russia’s threat to the nation’s security will become apparent. Maybe it will also generate a closer look at Donald Trump’s responses to that threat. According to the US intelligence community’s annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment,” we’re approaching that moment.
Last week, America’s intelligence leaders informed Congress that Russia “is now staging cyber attack assets to allow it to disrupt or damage US civilian and military infrastructure during a crisis….” Russia can disrupt an American electrical distribution network “for at least a few hours” and is “mapping our critical infrastructure with the long-term goal of being able to cause substantial damage.”
Restoring a power grid is challenging. When the lights go out on democracy, restoring power to the people is a more daunting task. Here’s the report’s opening line about Russia:
“We assess that Russia poses a cyber espionage, influence, and attack threat to the United States and our allies.” (Emphasis in original)
Testifying before Congress, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned: “[T]he Kremlin is stepping up its campaign to divide Western political and security institutions and undermine the post-WWII international order. We expect Russia will continue to wage its information war against democracies and to use social media to attempt to divide our societies.”
The next day, Trump moved the spotlight away from the report’s discussion of Russia by contradicting his intelligence leaders on Iran and North Korea — and chiding them in a tweet: “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school.”
It’s a familiar pattern, as the Trump-Russia Timeline reveals:
#1: AUG. 17, 2016
Trump receives his first national security briefing from senior FBI officials who warn that foreign adversaries, including Russia, will probably try to spy on and infiltrate his campaign.
Trump’s response: At the “Commander-in-Chief” forum on NBC, he praises Putin. (SEPT. 7) As the Trump campaign racks up more than 80 contacts with Russia before the election, Trump and his advisers repeatedly deny that there are any.
#2: OCT. 7, 2016
The intelligence community publishes its statement that Russia is interfering with the election.
Trump’s response: At the third presidential debate, he says, “[Hillary Clinton] has no idea whether it is Russia, China, or anybody else… Our country has no idea.” (OCT. 19)
#3: DEC. 9, 2016
The Washington Post reports the CIA’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the election to help Trump win.
Trump’s response: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” (DEC. 9) “They have no idea if it’s Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed someplace. I mean, they have no idea.” (DEC. 11)
#4: JAN. 6, 2017
The US intelligence community issues the public version of its report that Putin ordered the influence campaign promoting Trump’s candidacy.
Trump’s response: “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.” (JAN. 11)Days after the inauguration, the Trump administration considers an executive order unilaterally lifting Russian sanctions.
#5: JAN. 10, 2018
A Senate report details Putin’s ongoing worldwide attacks on democracy and emphasizes the need to counter Russia’s threat.
Trump’s response: He tells The Wall Street Journal that the Russia investigation is a hoax. (JAN. 11)
#6: MAR. 15, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security issues an alert: Russia has hacked into US utilities’ control rooms.
Trump’s response: He congratulates Vladimir Putin on winning re-election, ignoring the “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” warning from his national security advisers. (MAR. 20)
#7: JUL. 13, 2018
DNI Coats says Russian cyber attack warning lights are “blinking red.”
Trump’s response: When asked if Russia is still targeting the US, he says, “No.” (JULY 18)
#7: AUG. 2, 2018
At the White House daily press conference, DNI Coats and FBI Director Christopher Wray warn about ongoing Russian election interference in the midterms.
#8: DEC. 17, 2018
A report for the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that Russia is still using social media to help Trump by targeting special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Trump’s response: Tweets about the “Russian Witch Hunt” and “Hoax.” (DEC. 18)
Last week, Mueller said that non-public government discovery produced in the case against a Russian troll farm and 13 Russian nationals reappeared in a social media disinformation campaign against his investigation. As Putin’s global attacks continue, waiting for the lights to go out is an increasingly perilous path.
Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:
EARLY 2016–MARCH 2016: Trump Seeks Loan From Deutsch Bank; Bank Refuses
JUNE 6-7, 2016: Don Jr.’s Phone Calls With Emin Agalarov (revision of previous entry)
SEPT. 5, 2018: Twitter Removes 3,483 Russian Troll Accounts
OCT. 30, 2018: Stolen Documents Used to Attack Mueller’s Case Against IRA and Prigozhin
PRIOR TO NOV. 6, 2018: Twitter Removes More Russian Troll Accounts
NOV. 29-30, 2018: Trump Cancels G-20 Meeting with Putin; Kremlin Pushes Back; Trump Meets with Putin After All (revision of previous entry)
JAN. 28, 2019: Sens. Blumenthal and Grassley Introduce Bill Requiring Public Report From Mueller
JAN. 28, 2019: Cohen To Testify Privately Before House
JAN. 28, 2019: Sanders Refuses to Rule Out Pardon For Stone
JAN. 29-30, 2019: US Intelligence Community Heads Warn: Russian Efforts Include Cyber Attacks, Crippling Infrastructure, Dividing Americans, and Interfering With US Elections; Trump Changes Subject
JAN. 30, 2019: Mueller: Disinformation Campaign Targeted Russia Investigation; Additional Uncharged Individuals Engaging in Unlawful Activities
JAN. 31, 2019: Trump Tweets About Ohr, ‘Witch Hunt’
JAN. 31, 2019: Trump to NYT: ‘I Like Roger’ Who Has Been Treated ‘Very Badly’; ‘We’ll Do Something on it at the Right Time’; Says He Had No Conversations With Stone About WikiLeaks
JAN. 31, 2019: Trump to NYT: Business in Russia During Campaign
JAN. 31, 2019: Trump to NYT: Rosenstein Says He’s Not a Mueller Target, Doesn’t Know About SDNY’s Case Against Cohen, Denies Witness Tampering
FEB. 1, 2019: Belarusan Model Says She Gave 2016 Election Material to Deripaska
Steven J. Harper is the creator and curator of the Trump-Russia Timeline appearing at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and at Just Security. He is an attorney, adjunct professor at Northwestern University Law School, and author of four books, including Crossing Hoffa — A Teamster’s Story (Chicago Tribune “Best Book of the Year”) and The Lawyer Bubble — A Profession in Crisis. He blogs at The Belly of the Beast. Follow him on Twitter (@StevenJHarper1).