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Senate Intelligence Committee says Russian meddling targeted Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush in 2016

Denigration efforts during primaries also targeted Ted Cruz.

A new intelligence report says a Russian disinformation campaign targeted U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday released the second part of a report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. The document included the fact the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, Russia, used social media to spread disinformation.

Attacks on Democrat Hillary Clinton have been widely publicized, especially after Special Counsel Robert Mueller released his own investigation findings.

Less publicized, though, were Russian efforts to discredit Republican candidates seeking the GOP nomination, which ultimately went to now-President Donald Trump.

“The Committee found that the IRA targeted not only Hillary Clinton but also Republican candidates during the presidential primaries,” the report reads. “For example, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were targeted and denigrated, as was Jeb Bush.”

That’s not a complete shock. Mueller asserted in an indictment of the IRA and several associated individuals that Rubio, Cruz and Clinton had been denigrated online to benefit Russia favored candidates Trump and Bernie Sanders in the Republican and Democratic primaries respectively. Bush was not mentioned in the report.

The Senate Intelligence investigation also found the IRA continued efforts after the 2016 election, which Trump won over Clinton. Denigration efforts surrounded former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a sharp critic of Russia, while he was being considered by Trump for the job of Secretary of State.

Those post ultimately went to Rex Tillerson, whom Rubio grilled in confirmation hearings over his own associations with Russia. Trump fired Tillerson in March 2018.

Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, publicized the new report but has not specifically addressed findings of meddling with his own Presidential ambitions.

“Senate Intel has released Part II of our report on #Putin’s interference in 16 elections,” Rubio tweeted. “It’s bipartisan, detailed & offers specific recommendations. Those interested in real solutions instead of cycle of daily drama will find it useful.”

Rubio’s own presidential campaign came to a close after he lost his home state of Florida to Trump, who also owns an estate at Mar-a-Lago.

The new Senate Intelligence report makes mention of Florida beyond name-dropping some of its prominent political leaders.

For example, the report says an IRA operation sent an operative to a network with a grassroots conservative organization in Texas. There, Russians learned they should target disinformation to voters in battleground states like Florida, Colorado and Virginia.

Also, using a Facebook Group entitled “Being Patriotic,” Russian operatives organized multiple “Florida Goes Trump” rallies in Florida. The events, also promoted with the Twitter account @March_for_Trump, paid participants to go to events in Fort Lauderdale and Coral Gables. One individual dressed as Hillary Clinton rode in a prison cage on the back of a flatbed truck.

The same Facebook group organized flash mobs for Trump.

The Senate committee recommended several steps to combat future foreign interference in U.S. elections. That includes working with social media companies to stop disinformation the same algorithms get employed today to filter hate speech.

The committee also urges Congress to take action to better facilitate communication lines between social media companies and police “with respect to curtailing foreign influence operations that target Americans.”

The committee also asks the executive branch, presumably including Trump, to reinforce with the public the dangers of foreign interference in the 2020 election.

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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