The early-1950s movie and radio series “I Was a Communist for the FBI” could be updated to “I Was a Republican for the FSB.” (The FSB is the Russian successor to the Soviet KGB, Moscow’s main intelligence agency.) Without knowing it or meaning to, some Republicans lent themselves to Russian election meddling.

This could hurt them in upcoming elections. No one likes to be known as a Russian “dupe” (one of J. Edgar Hoover’s favorite slurs), even if unwitting. In 2016, Russians took over a defunct Tennessee Twitter account, “Ten_GOP,” and used it to insert deceptive material into the campaign that many Tennessee Republicans followed. This may explain why current Sen. Bob Corker, who said he wouldn’t, is considering running again. His competition, ultraconservative Rep. Marsha Blackburn, could be vulnerable: “Don’t elect a Russian dupe.”

Russian meddling in U.S. politics, which started in 2014, was carried out chiefly by the “private” Internet Research Agency, a “troll farm” owned by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, an oligarch buddy of President Putin. Special Counsel Mueller’s grand jury recently indicted 13 of its staffers for interference. None are likely to show unless granted immunity and a green card, which we should offer for their testimony.

Prigozhin, known for his catering empire as “Putin’s chef,” has also hired Russian mercenaries to fight in Syria, something only the Kremlin could direct. They could easily clash with U.S. special operators and already took casualties from U.S. airstrikes. Implication: Either we back down or the Russians do.

A showdown would require Trump to stop coddling Russia and stop calling Russian electoral meddling a “hoax,” opening him to leaks and charges of Russian help. And Trump will not delegitimize his election or admit error. Ergo, he will avoid a showdown with Putin in Syria by leaving Kurds to the mercy of Turkey, Russia and Iran. The U.S. again abandons an ally and a leadership role.

The Americans who eagerly followed the Russian “bots” and “trolls” that set up fake rallies, threatening conspiracies and denunciations of Secretary Clinton were “unwitting” in their actions, said the indictment. Let us hope that we have all — especially Republicans — learned a lesson about accepting anything that rolls onto our social-media screens. Russian trolls immediately sprang into action following the Parkland school shooting, trying to whip up discontent again.

 


The U.S. Communist Party back in the day attempted to do this sort of thing by infiltrating and bending committees of concerned citizens, laughable compared to today’s “information warfare” via cyberinfiltration. CPUSA back then was so penetrated by the FBI that they used to joke they could put it out of existence by simply not paying their dues.

Mueller’s indictments of former Trump campaign officials Manafort and Gates work only indirectly against Trump. Mueller has plenty on the pair — untaxed millions from serving Russian oligarchs, fraudulent loans to desperately pay off one such oligarch and hints of trying to lift the Magnitsky sanctions — but Trump will claim he knew nothing about any of this, and it will be hard to prove otherwise. Collusion may not fit. Aides’ indictments for money-laundering and fraud may not contribute to a presidential impeachment. (One wonders how much corruption of this sort is standard but unnoticed in Washington.)

Trump could, as some of his defenders have urged, pardon everyone even before they come to trial in order to ensure their silence. That would (1) damage GOP election chances, (2) raise a big impeachment flag, (3) move their cases to state courts and (4) still not excuse those pardoned from testifying fully and truthfully. Pardons would be a nearly suicidal move.

Something else may make Manafort fearful and close-lipped. He paid off most of a failed business deal but still owes a reported $7.8 million to powerful aluminum oligarch Oleg Deripaska (plus a similar amount to other Russian oligarchs). No one stiffs Russian oligarchs. U.S. legal punishment is tame in comparison.

The Trump administration’s bigger problem is its unwillingness to take serious action against Russian threats to our sovereignty and security, which could open the way to an impeachment charge of failure to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution” from foreign enemies. So far, most congressional Republicans have covered for Trump, but some have begun to drift away. Facing midterm losses, more will drift.

One takeaway from this sordid mess is that sanctions on Russian oligarchs work. I doubted they would, but the billions of Russian ill-gotten gains parked in American banks, investments and real estate has made the Moscow kleptocracy vulnerable: They can’t get at their wealth. That’s why they keep trying to roll back the Magnitsky sanctions, thus tipping us off to reinforce them.

Another takeaway: Without returning to the Cold War’s rigidity and bad analyses, we must understand that Russia and China are once again hostile — this time with Beijing in charge. Except for the White House, most in Washington get this.