AUBURN — When Russia attacked America’s election in 2016, it didn’t change any votes directly but it “absolutely” achieved its chief aim, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Friday.
The Maine Republican said Russia’s goal was to sow discord among voters in the United States, she said, and it proved so successful that the country remains heavily split more than a year after the polls closed.
Moreover, Collins said, the Russians “are continuing their efforts to this very day.”
Collins addressed the issue during a stop at Schooner Estates, a senior complex, where she spoke with residents and toured the facility.
Addressing an Associated Press report that a cybersecurity firm has determined the Russians are laying the groundwork for an espionage campaign against the U.S. Senate, Collins said she’s not too worried about Russian hackers.
“I think they’re going to find me very boring,” she said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied involvement in U.S. elections or campaigns in other democratic countries.
In a televised meeting with Russian newspaper editors Thursday, Putin reportedly insisted, “We haven’t meddled. I want to underline again: it’s sheer nonsense. There has been no collusion, no interference on our part.”
But Collins, a member of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, said the evidence says otherwise.
“The Russians did actively attempt to interfere with our elections” using a wide variety of tactics, the longtime lawmaker said.
Collins said there is no evidence that Russian hacking changed any votes at the polls, but its efforts weren’t really directed at getting particular candidates into office.
Instead, she said, it aimed at undermining American faith in its democratic system and creating chaos and confusion among the electorate.
Its goal, Collins said, “was to sow the seeds of dissension.”
She said the proof that it didn’t care who won was its secret purchase of social media advertisements that “played both sides,” supporting each candidate in a race while trying to foster division.
Russia was both “for and against” the same candidates at the same time, Collins said.
One consequence of its attempt to cause rifts among American voters, she said, is that people remain more divided than they would otherwise be.
The Russian efforts have been so successful that Russian has tried to follow the same pattern in elections in other countries as well, including France, Germany and Montenegro, Collins said.
Maine’s other senator, independent Angus King, who also serves on the intelligence panel, has said Russia continues to interfere in elections.
“It’s not only us, it’s the entire West,” he told the panel in November.
King has often cited the need to get to the bottom of what happened so the U.S. can understand what it will take to prevent the Russians from causing problems in future races.
King told MSNBC that Trump ought to cooperate with the Senate probe but is instead simply denying there’s anything to charges of Russian interference. Trump frequently insists there was “no collusion” without addressing findings that Russia meddled in American politics.
King has said the Senate panel’s investigation isn’t complete so it’s too early to say whether Trump’s stance is correct.
“Here’s my problem with the president’s position: If there’s no collusion, if there was no collusion, then he should be encouraging this investigation, supporting it fully, providing all the information that he can,” King said.
“What bothers me is not only is he saying there’s no collusion, he’s saying the whole thing is a hoax and the whole thing is fake news,” King said. “He downplays or ignores or denies that the Russians were involved.”
King said the best outcome for Trump would be to confirm that no collusion occurred between his campaign and the Russians.
To prove it, he said, Trump ought to “open all the records” and let investigators see for themselves that the charges are off the mark. If there’s nothing to find, the senator said, that’s the best outcome for the president.
Collins said one way to fight back against the Russians is for the federal government to do more to lend a hand to states trying to secure their elections better.
She said state election leaders ought to be given security clearances so they can be told of any threats to the systems they oversee. There also ought to be federal aid to assist their attempts to safeguard the polls, Collins said.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins joking around Friday at Schooner Estates in Auburn with Ruth Clarke, right, and her mother, Jean Breininger. (Steve Collins/Sun Journal)