Facebook should be treated like a crime scene. The social media company likely has troves of data that could provide critical leads for the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. The effort to investigate possible coordination between the Trump team and Russia has so far centered on the growing number of meetings and interactions between the campaign and Kremlin-linked figures. These meetings already tell us a lot about intent. For instance, with the revelation of the June 9 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr.; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law; Paul Manafort, the chairman of the Trump campaign at the time, and a handful of Russians with various ties to the Kremlin, we now know that at the very least the Trump campaign at the highest levels were interested in working with the Russians during the election. And likewise, from the Jan. 6 Intelligence Community report, we know that Russians also wanted to help elect Donald Trump and effectively set up a campaign to do so.
This meant there were essentially two campaigns to elect Trump president in 2016: the Trump campaign and the Russian campaign. Knowing these two efforts were open, if not eager, to work together, the question then becomes: Did they and to what end? In other words, what were they meeting about? In trying to investigate this question, it is worth thinking through how a campaign could benefit from working with a foreign power.
One, now well-explored, area would be utilizing foreign intelligence capabilities for “opposition research.” As Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) explained at a recent Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, “Imagine being able to do [opposition research] with the power of a nation state, illegally acquiring things like emails and being able to weaponize by leaking.” This of course is what the hacking and leaking of information from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, former chairman of the Clinton campaign, is all about. Other potential areas involve utilizing foreign cyber capabilities to hack into election machines and cause mischief at the polls. Another more basic area would be to coordinate messaging or lines of attack, with the outside power covertly advancing messages that are too controversial for the campaign.