Politics & Government

How does 2016 stack up to every other time the Kremlin meddled in U.S. elections?

In this Feb. 20, 2017 traditional Russian wooden dolls depicting U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are displayed for sale at a souvenir shop in St. Petersburg, Russia.
In this Feb. 20, 2017 traditional Russian wooden dolls depicting U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are displayed for sale at a souvenir shop in St. Petersburg, Russia. AP

The investigations into whether Republican President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election has dominated the news for nearly a year now.

One of the men leading a key part of that investigation, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr – a North Carolina Republican – made an intriguing claim about the state of affairs between Russia and the U.S. earlier this month.

“This is not the first time they’ve been involved in our elections,” Burr told a reporter earlier this month when asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin and his denial of election meddling.

This is the first time in many people’s lives, however, that Congress and the FBI have held such a public investigation into Russian election meddling. So PolitiFact North Carolina looked into Burr’s statement and found that while he has a point, it’s a bit misleading.

The current Russian government has never been publicly accused of doing anything on the level of what happened in 2016.

According to a declassified intelligence report that combined CIA, FBI and NSA analyses, the U.S. intelligence committee believes with “high confidence” that the Kremlin tried in 2016 to influence the outcome of the election by helping Trump and hurting the campaign of his challenger, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The report said the Russian government conducted successful cyber attacks during the election, and that it was behind an army of paid social media “trolls” it used to spread news and start arguments about the two candidates. That was, U.S. spies believe, “a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.”

So this was different than anything we’ve seen from the current Russian government. But what about Cold War hostilities?

PolitiFact NC also interviewed half a dozen historians and foreign policy experts to ask if the Soviet Union ever did anything like this.

They said yes. But how frequent was it? Did it work? When was the last time it happened? And where has the current Russian government drawn the line ever since the fall of the USSR, at least until now?

For the answers to all those questions and more, read the whole fact-check here.

Email: Truthometer@PolitiFact.com; Twitter: @PolitiFactNC

PolitiFact North Carolina

Speaker: Sen. Richard Burr

Statement: “This is not the first time (The Russians) have been involved in our elections.”

Ruling: The Russians have never been accused of trying to influence an election for or against a specific candidate before, unlike what the U.S. intelligence community says with “high confidence” happened in 2016. The Soviets did do that a few times, but the latest incident was 40 years ago. Since Burr’s claim is partially accurate but lacking those important details, we rate it Half True.

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