Former Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper and former U.S. Representative Michael J. Rogers explored Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum Tuesday.
Kennedy School professor Graham T. Allison ’62—who moderated the event—paused after the two speakers were introduced to pull out a copy of the Boston Globe and display for the audience an April 2017 editorial titled “Keep your eyes on Russia” detailing allegations that the Russian government had tampered with last year’s presidential election.
“What do we know about ‘Russiagate’?” Allison asked the speakers.
Both Clapper and Rogers agreed that Russia aimed to undermine American democratic institutions this past election.
Clapper said that according to the information he had, he believed Russia had been initially interested in “sowing doubt” in American democracy, but became increasingly interested in supporting President Donald Trump against former Secretary of State and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as the election went on.
“In my view, the evidence for it was overwhelming,” he said.
Clapper described what he saw as “irrefutable” proof that Russia had meddled in the election through cyberattacks, hacking, and propaganda dispersed throughout social and traditional media.
Rogers, who used to chair the House Intelligence Committee, said he was more concerned with the fact that such tampering came as a surprise to many Americans. He described how in past years has Russia attempted to influence other countries’ elections, and said the country is only pursuing the same strategy with more modern technologies now.
“Why we should be surprised is shocking to me,” Rogers said, “Both political parties are fighting about whose side [the Russians] were on—I think we should take away that…this was a very public display about trying to influence average Americans going about their day.”
Clapper made clear that while the FBI was certain that Russia attempted to plant doubts about the American electoral process, the effect of the tampering on the outcome of the election was less clear.
“What it did not do was determine whether or not the Russian influence actually had any impact on the results of the election,” he said.
Rogers warned audience members to be aware of the unconscious influence media can have on opinions and voting patterns.
“I think we all should understand that people are going to try to do that to you the next time you walk into the voting booth. You ought to understand that someone out there—today it’s the Russians, who knows—is trying to make some kind of an influenced statement on this,” Rogers said—Staff writer Lucas Ward can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter at @LucaspfWard.
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