You can probably sense in the news media a trend toward moving away from discussions of the election. There are many reasons to do this. Viewers are tired of the election and want to move on. It is important however to note that this tendency to move on has nothing whatsoever to do with the evidence. There was a point a little while ago where the evidence passed a threshold: we now have reason to conclude the Russians and the F.B.I. illegally influenced the outcome of the election. I wanted to summarize the evidence we have so far regarding the outcome of the election.
CNN reported on November 25th,
Clinton fell about 27,000 votes shy of Trump in Wisconsin and 60,000 in Pennsylvania — razor-thin margins in both states, which together account for 30 Electoral College votes. Votes still are being tallied in Michigan, which CNN has not called for either candidate yet.
The vote in the Electoral College is Trump 290, Clinton 232. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan represent 46 electoral votes. These states would have put Clinton over the top. Clinton has now expanded her popular-vote lead to more than 2 million (64.4 million to 62.3 million), the widest gap in raw vote in the history of the handful of times when the popular vote went the opposite direction as the Electoral College.
Between October 28th, the day Comey wrote his letter to congress and November 3, Clinton’s chances of winning Florida and North Carolina fell from 66% and 65% respectively to approximately 50% in each state according to the FiveThirtyEight website (9). Clinton’s chances of winning Arizona, Iowa, and Ohio were 49%, 51%, and 50% respectively on October 28th; By November 3rd her chances had dropped substantially, with Trump given 71%, 72%, 67% chances of victory. The average decrease in her chances is between 15% and 20%. Clinton ended up losing all of the states mentioned. She won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College with 228 electoral votes. If she had won Florida and North Carolina, she would have won the election with 272 electoral votes. Clinton herself described the Comey announcement as making the difference.
The Comey message to congress 11 days before the election was not the only FBI leak that damaged the Clinton campaign. On October 29 details of an FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation ended up in a news report even though senior law enforcement officials and career anti-corruption prosecutors made it clear they were not impressed with the case (article). This information was reported on the Kelly File November 2.
Breaking tonight just six days before America votes, another bombshell drops on Hillary Clinton’s Campaign, this one involving serious details of the F.B.I.’s investigation into the Clinton Foundation and talk of a possible indictment.
The Fox News anchor Bret Baier also reported that FBI sources said that the Clinton Foundation case is moving toward “likely an indictment.” The story was widely refuted by other media organizations. Baier apologized for the report on November 4th, calling it a “mistake.”
Russian Hacks of Emails
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security released a joint statement that accused Russia of launching computer hacks “intended to interfere with the US election process”(2). It stated that the US intelligence community “is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of emails” belonging to the Democratic National Committee. These emails were leaked through Wikileaks in a manner that continually did damage to the Democratic party. They lead to the resignation of the Democratic Party Chair Debbie Wasserman-Shultz.
Russians Circulated Fake News Stories
The Washington Post published evidence the Russian propaganda effort helped spread “fake news” during the election that helped Trump win. The Germans are now worried that “fake news” could influence their election.
Russian Vote Tampering
The F.B.I. warned state election officials in August that foreign hackers had exported voter registration data from computer systems in at least one state, and had pierced the systems of a second one. Senate Minority Leader, Harry Reid, said in August that recent classified briefings from senior intelligence officials left him fearful Putin’s goal is tampering with the U.S. election. Reid noted that hackers would only have to manipulate the vote in a few swing states to influence the outcome of the election. Reid called for the F.B.I. to investigate the efforts for the Russians to influence the election.
There is a unique and substantive difference between the average of the polls and the vote in three crucial swing states. J. Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan computer scientists who specializes in elections, has argued that these differences can be explained as evidence of Russian vote tampering. He points out that the Russians used malware to attempt to influence the election in a similar fashion in the Ukraine in 2014.
The first column is electoral votes, second is the probability of victory according FiveThirtyEight, third is the polling average as reported on FiveThirtyEight, fourth is the percentage of votes as reported on RealClearPolitics. The vote in the Electoral College is Trump 290, Clinton 232. In each state, Trump out performs the polling average substantially and by just enough to win.
State EV %V Polls Votes
Michigan 16 C78.9 C4.1 T.3
Pennsylvania 20 C77 C3.9 T1.3
Wisconsin 10 C83.9 C5.9 T2.6
Halderman argues that the polls could be systematically wrong or the Russians could have tampered with the results using malware. However, when we consider all the evidence that the Russians were clearly trying to influence the election through hacking emails and circulating fake news together with fact that they attempted to engage in vote tampering just two years ago in the Ukraine, the two options Halderman suggests are clearly not equal in this context.
Why did the Russians and the FBI do this? The answer is easy in the case of the Russians. Trump has advocated policies that are shockingly out of step with political conventions in the U. S. and are directly in the interest of the Russians: allowing them to Russian to annex Crimea, and weakening NATO. These positions undermine the ability of the European Union to maintain economic sanctions on Russian because of their annexation of Crimea.
After his many bankruptcies, U.S. banks would not fund Trump’s business ventures. So he was forced to turn to Russian Financiers, like the Bayrock Business Group. Russian financiers have bankrolled Trump’s business ventures all around the world. The New York Times reported on October 31 that FBI officials spent weeks examining computer data showing an odd stream of activity to a Trump Organization server and Alfa Bank, which is one of Russia’s biggest banks and whose owners have longstanding ties to Mr. Putin. The logs show that two servers at Alfa Bank sent more than 2,700 “look-up” messages– a first step for one system’s computers to talk to another — to a Trump-connected server beginning in the spring of 2016 (3).
Helping Trump get elected would give the Russians unprecedented leverage over the assets of the U.S. president. Moreover, Trump knows that Putin helped him get elected; and he knows that Putin can help him get unelected if necessary. This gives Putin unprecedented leverage over the U.S. president and over U.S. policy in general.
The F.B.I. is a kind of Trumplandia according to current F.B.I. agents: it is filled with Tump supporters that have a visceral opposition to Hillary Clinton. It appears this general attitude is pervasive and it has influenced the behavior of F.B.I.agents and officials.
One could argue based on the evidence that the Comey message to congress 11 days before the election made the difference. But if we want to be conservative, we might argue that the Comey message together with all the F.B.I. leaks made the difference. Here we would include the leaks about the Clinton foundation. The evidence suggests that since the election was so close, the behavior of the F.B.I. could have made the difference in the election. Then when we add the behavior of the Russians, it is simply not possible to argue the election result was not influenced by this illegal activity.
The cybersecurity researcher Caroline Baylon wrote in an article in Newsweek that the United States has used covert CIA-backed operations to install leaders friendly to the U.S. in countries around the world in “an attempt to gain supremacy over the then-Soviet Union during the Cold War.” She argues that “Russia seems to have taken a page from the U.S. playbook and one upped it, as it may have significantly contributed to the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States.” The evidence we have forces us to conclude that we have just witnessed a cyber warfare version of a “Pearl Harbor” scale event.