On May 14, the Russian Foreign Ministry published the remarks Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made to reporters after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Sochi. On the subject of Russian meddling in the U.S. 2016 presidential election, Lavrov said he handed over to Pompeo a copy of an article published in the U.S. in 1987, which according to him, claimed that the Soviet Union planned to meddle in the then-upcoming 1988 presidential election. On May 20, a Russian Foreign Ministry Twitter account tweeted a link to Lavrov’s statement with a photograph showing part of the article in question.
Kremlin officials, including President Putin, continue to deny meddling in the 2016 election. Lavrov’s reference to the 1987 article suggests that the same story was trotted out decades ago. However, even a cursory examination of the article shows there is no accurate comparison between the two.
Context on Lavrov’s Source
The 1987 article appeared in the Executive Intelligence Review (EIR), which is published by the LaRouche movement, known for promoting numerous conspiracy theories. Its founder, the late Lyndon LaRouche, claimed in a 1986 interview that he was the victim of a conspiracy that included the Soviet Union, the U.S. Department of Justice, international bankers (including “Anglican bankers”) and drug dealers (he frequently accused Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II of being among those drug dealers), and the Anti-Defamation League, the international Jewish NGO. LaRouche, who died in February, ran for U.S. president several times and later served five years in prison for fraud and conspiracy.
More recently, the LaRouche movement has supported the Kremlin’s line on many issues, including denial of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Our Findings – ‘Misleading’
Origins aside, the EIR article did not allege that the Soviet Union meddled in the 1988 election. “Soviet leaders are ‘intensely interested’ in the progress of the 1988 United States presidential campaign and are pumping all relevant American visitors to Moscow to find out as much as they can about the line-up,” reads the article’s lead sentence.
The EIR article quoted an American businessman who said that the Soviets wanted to figure out who was most likely to win the 1988 U.S. presidential election so they could devise an approach to the winner.
The closest the article came to suggesting the Soviets might try to influence the election was a short section on then-real estate developer Donald Trump’s visit to Moscow in 1987 at the invitation of Intourist, the Soviet government’s tourism agency, to discuss building luxury hotels in the capital. The article said the Soviet were “reportedly looking more kindly on a possible presidential bid” by Trump.
Lavrov himself pointed to Trump’s appearance in the article: “By the way, the same article mentioned, for the first time, that Donald Trump, who was then a successful businessman, might have political ambitions.”
According to the EIN article, after Trump returned from Moscow, a Republican Party organizer openly boasted that he would try to enter the real estate tycoon in the 1988 presidential primaries. However, Trump did not participate in either party’s primary race that year, though he was quoted as saying he was “honored” by the interest.
An in-depth review of Soviet intelligence operations to influence U.S. political decision-making was published this past March by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Written by Seth Jones, director of CSIS’s Transitional Threats Project, and titled “Russian Meddling in the United States: The Historical Context of the Mueller Report,” it looked at Soviet “active measures” that cost Moscow billions of dollars annually.
Regarding the 1988 U.S. presidential election, the CSIS report stated: “As one FBI report concluded, ‘Soviet intelligence officers have already started to collect information on the 1988 Presidential candidates and their positions on various issues.’ These operations targeted ‘Congressmen and other elected officials by front organizations, agents of influence, Soviet influenced organizations, and the CPUSA’.” It did not provide any additional details on whether the Soviet Union’s collecting of information ahead of the elections led then to any active measures to try and influence their outcome.
“By the early 1990s, however, Russian active measures went into a deep thaw as the Soviet Union collapsed, the KGB was in disarray, and Moscow lost its Warsaw Pact allies to the expansion of NATO and the European Union,” the report noted.
Thus, allegations of election meddling did not surface contemporaneously during those earlier U.S. presidential campaigns, as they did during and after the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, when investigations were launched that provided evidence of interference. That evidence was provided by both the U.S. intelligence community and private companies like Facebook and Twitter, which were used as vectors for disinformation by the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, and enhanced in the Mueller report, all denied by Russia.
Additionally, the minority staff of a U.S. Senate committee issued a report in January 2018 on President Putin’s “attack (on) the democracies of Europe and the United States,” which Russian officials also slammed at the time.
Lavrov’s reference to an earlier U.S. presidential election campaign appears to be an attempt to demonstrate that accusations of Russian meddling in U.S. politics are nothing new and are groundless. However, the article itself proves nothing, but the history seems to make a point opposite to Lavrov’s — that Russia, as the Mueller investigation has shown, continues the Soviet legacy in this respect.
And so we find Lavrov’s claim that the public allegations of Russian interference in 2016 U.S. presidential election are nothing new, especially citing the 1987 EIR article in question, is highly misleading.