‘No impact on our votes’: Trump’s half-lie about Russian meddling

REUTERS/Leah Millis
The fact that the Russian government at least tried to help President Donald Trump win leaves open the question of why.

President Trump said again this week that while Russia certainly “meddled” in the 2016 election, it had “no impact on our votes.”

He has a lot of ways of lying, and this one is perhaps slightly cleverer than most, because it contains a half-truth that makes it only a half-lie.

I assume that, if anyone could ask him enough questions to clarify what he meant, and keep asking them until he stopped evading them, he would end up admitting that “no impact on our votes” really means only that Russia didn’t penetrate into the system for actually counting the ballots that were cast. But, when he says “no impact on our votes,” he wants us to hear “no impact on the outcome.”

Two different things

Those are two different things. But, without being able to read his mind, I assume he intentionally conflates them in hopes of confusing us.

It’s true that, so far, no one has found solid evidence that Russia or any other miscreant actually found a way to hack into the technology for counting the votes and changing the official totals. And that’s good.

On the other hand, no honest person is still denying that Russia used various web-based methods of spreading messages — messages designed to be taken as honest intra-U.S. discussions of facts and arguments about the candidates and the issues — with the intention of influencing some Americans to vote for Donald Trump and against Hillary Clinton.

I have little doubt that they succeeded in influencing some number of voters along those lines, but there is no way to know what that number is.

And, since the election was quite close (despite Trump’s frequent pitiful claims to have won by a big margin, notwithstanding his refusal to acknowledge that he received neither a majority nor even a plurality of the votes), and the number of votes that were influenced by the Russian effort is unknown, we have no ways of knowing whether it was enough to tilt the outcome. But neither can Trump claim to know that it didn’t.

It’s not just unknown, it’s unknowable.

Enthusiasm for Russia’s help

We do know that agents of Trump, up to and including his son, Donald Jr., expressed enthusiasm for receiving help from Russians who claimed to have dirt on Clinton. If that wasn’t treason, it was some steps down the path toward treason.

And, of course, the fact that the Russian government at least tried to help Trump win leaves open the question of why.

Anyway, my main purpose in this brief post is just to note that his “no impact on our votes” gag is a half-lie that’s supposed to be disguised enough to work as a half-truth.

I will tarry one paragraph longer to make a point that often occurs to me. Our outrage against the Russians for daring to interfere in our internal affairs even to the point of possibly changing our government should be complicated and even mitigated by this nasty fact: The United States has interfered, usually behind a cloak of secrecy, in the internal affairs of many other nations with the clear purpose of affecting the result of an election or undermining a government of which we disapproved, always for self-serving reasons.

We even did it to Russia in 1917-20 when U.S. troops occupied Russian territory without the consent of the Russian government, and despite the fact that we were on the same side as Russia in World I, in a period that stretched from the end of World War I and into the period of the Russian Civil War. Few Americans recall this. Most Russians do.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (34)

  1. Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 03/08/2018 - 09:19 am.

    Who’s half-lie?

    The author’s half-lie is to include Donald Trump in the Russian calculations. Russian experts have long alleged that the Russian spying was to hurt Hillary. Helping Trump get elected was a byproduct.

    • Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 03/08/2018 - 10:31 am.

      Among all the Republican primary candidates, Russian trolling supported Trump overwhelming – even when he was not considered a serious candidate.

      There is no doubt that the Russians had/have a visceral hatred for Hillary Clinton. But why did they have such love for Trump? Clearly more than a “byproduct”.

    • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 03/09/2018 - 07:21 am.

      Not even half of the story…

      Assuming all the comments and suppositions in the article and comment section against Trump are true, where is the even-handed reporting? Where does it say that Russians wanted to get even with Hillary? People say Trump should be doing more about Russian meddling today. Where is the reporting on the failure of Obama as this meddling happened under his watch?

      I’ll have to look elsewhere for a 360 perspective.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/08/2018 - 09:34 am.

    Interference of all sorts on all sides is a known and indisputable historical fact,

    The denial of interference by the target country and the refusal to call it out and the absent reaction and prevention is the ahistorical part.

    I read something the other day–during the campaign, Trump said that if I voted for Clinton we would have a criminal for a president that would be under investigation for wrong-doing from day one of their term. He was right–I did and we do.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/08/2018 - 09:54 am.

    My 2¢

    I confess to being less interested (not UNinterested, just less so) in the mechanics of how disinformation was spread and how, and to what degree, it might have influenced voters who might otherwise have voted for Hillary Clinton than I am in the key question behind those mechanics:


    Russia, like the United States, often acts in foreign policy and operations from a position of self-interest, so what I’m really interested in is an answer – or perhaps multiple answers to multiple parts of a broad question – to that potentially sinister, but oh, so simple question: Why? What benefit was – or is – perceived to be the outcome for Russia and/or its current government by at least attempting to help Donald Trump win the election of 2016?

    There’s both a short and a long game potentially at work, it seems to me. In the short run, of course, we already have plenty of evidence that Donald Trump is easily manipulated. Anyone whose ego needs the constant propping-up that he’s displayed can be played like a (choose your musical instrument – I prefer the guitar)… In that context flattery, of various kinds and degrees seems to have worked in the past, and continues to work in the present. But that’s only in the short term, and no one who’s truly self-effacing has run for the presidency, at least not during the 20th or 21st centuries. What are Russia’s short-term goals, and how might they be helped along by persuading Donald Trump that he’s special, and otherwise stroking a presidential ego that desperately wants those strokes?

    In the broader context of the long term, what’s the advantage or benefit (or multiples of those) to Russia of a Trump presidency? Will having what sometimes seems to be a puppet in the White House do serious and permanent damage to American political institutions? Has Trump’s disdain for both the law and the press undermined to a significant degree the sometimes-democratic process we all like to take pride in when comparing ourselves to other nations? Will that advantage or benefit to Russia outlive both Trump and Putin?

    I have no special expertise or connections in foreign policy, and don’t claim to have answers to any of the above questions, but they’re all serious issues that push pretty hard for analysis and answers to resolve the uncertainty around them. Most of the time, governments and political systems succumb less to outside threats and aggression than to interior decay, complacency, or the always-present interior threat of plutocracy. I have no way to know what’s in the minds of the higher-ups in the Kremlin – or in the White House, for that matter – but Russian meddling strikes me as a threat just as serious as any other act of overt aggression by enemy states we’ve had to deal with in the past. And, just to complicate matters, I was happy to see Eric mention our own frequent – too frequent, in my view – meddling in the internal affairs of other countries for reasons that can be charitably described as self-serving. To a degree, what’s now concerning us is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

    • Submitted by Robert Lilly on 03/08/2018 - 01:12 pm.


      Seems to be that getting the sanctions lifted was Putin’s goal. After getting assurances from Flynn that’s exactly what would happen. Putin didn’t respond to Obama’s last act against Russia (kicking people out and confiscating property).
      I haven’t seen anything done by Putin that makes me think that he plans for the long term, he seems more interested in making money, now!

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 03/08/2018 - 05:15 pm.

      Good questions

      I’d say the most likely answers pop up in a search on some version of “Russia’s global objective is to destabilize democracy,” a search I did after reading your comment.

      This Politico piece lays it out pretty well.

      “Russia’s plot against the West — The Kremlin wants to destroy the trans-Atlantic alliance. Does Trump want to save it?”


      And when it comes to the question of how the pres may be playing along, or being played like a guitar, if, while reading the piece, a person thinks about so many of the things he’s said and done (in his campaign and since taking office — like today’s tariffs, for example) it’s not hard to see how many of them, if not most, fit the “game plan” described.

      Viewed in that light, it sure looks like he’s been doing a lot more to help Putin than anyone west of Moscow.

  4. Submitted by Tim Smith on 03/08/2018 - 10:05 am.

    The President

    is right, to this point there are absolutely zero facts or evidence that without Russian influence the outcome would have been any different. This twisted liberal word game is a conveneient way to stay in denial.The Dems lost because Hillary was a bad candidate, she also has proven to be a liar if we must point out the liars constantly.All politicians do it.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/08/2018 - 11:11 am.

      What Difference Does it Make?

      “[T]o this point there are absolutely zero facts or evidence that without Russian influence the outcome would have been any different.” So what? that is not the question. The issues are whether tampering took place (any doubters on that score?), and what that tampering consisted of. This should prod Congress and the states to taking steps it won’t happen again (sure, it will).

      To look at it a different way, would you have someone prosecuted for voting illegally if there were no proof that their vote changed the outcome of the election?

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/08/2018 - 01:00 pm.

      Not quite the case

      Mr. Smith is incorrect.

      The public has not seen any facts or evidence (so far) to connect Russian influence with the Trump campaign. That might indicate that there **are** no facts or evidence with which to do that. Or, it might indicate that the current investigation doesn’t yet have enough evidence to make a convincing presentation in what would obviously be a hotly-contested court case.

      Whether Russian influence affected the outcome of the election is, at this point, unknowable, but the more important point is that there’s general agreement among Republicans and Democrats alike in Washington that an **attempt** to influence the outcome of the election was made. Let the chips fall where they may regarding collusion on the part of the Trump campaign, but there seems to be little doubt among political professionals on both sides of the aisle that A) the Russian government and/or its leaders obviously preferred one candidate over the other; and B) that they made a serious effort, via cyber warfare, to direct the election toward that outcome.

      • Submitted by Tim Smith on 03/09/2018 - 08:18 am.

        so where

        did I say Russia didn’t try and influence the election? My comment was quite clear, there is no proof that the interference mattered, in the oputcome, none. Hillary was a bad candidate who ran a bad campaign.Stick to the facts please.

    • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 03/08/2018 - 03:21 pm.

      All politicians do it.

      I agree. All politicians mix facts with some fiction. The problem is your guy has taken it to a whole new level. He doesn’t bother with the facts part of it. Trump isn’t even a sneaky liar he is just an outright liar. Trump is proof positive elections have consequences. In Trump’s case more consequences than usual.

  5. Submitted by John Webster on 03/08/2018 - 10:18 am.


    I was definitely puzzled by Trump’s softline rhetoric toward Russia during the 2016 campaign. Trump has never made the effort to be well-informed about major public policy issues, but how could he not know about Putin’s antagonism toward the U.S.? Was he that naive?

    But the hypocrisy of Democratic politicians and their media cheerleaders is galling. Mitt Romney was ridiculed by Obama and almost all of the news media (i.e. Obama partisans) for saying in a 2012 debate that Russia was the greatest strategic adversary of the U.S. Romney was of course correct, but few journalists have the integrity to remind the public about who said what about Russia in 2012.

    If Trump intends to be soft on Russia, he’s doing an extremely poor job of making good on that intention. He has approved shipping defensive weapons to Ukraine – which Obama refused to do. And far more harmful to Russia: Trump has given the U.S. energy sector the go-ahead to produce enough energy to keep prices of fossil fuels low, which hurts the Russian economy more than economic sanctions of any type could do.

    But these facts refute the preferred narrative, so most of the media will deliberately avoid informing the public of the realities.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/08/2018 - 12:22 pm.

      Not Again!

      “[F]ew journalists have the integrity to remind the public about who said what about Russia in 2012.” Maybe that’s because few journalists feel it is their job to play “gotcha!” with the public. Or maybe it’s because few, if any, journalists think that it is still 2012 and that Barack Obama is still President.

      “If Trump intends to be soft on Russia, he’s doing an extremely poor job of making good on that intention.” I’ll bet Russia is really suffering from his refusal to enforce the sanctions that Congress imposed. And trying to undermine the investigation into Russian electoral meddling? Why, it could be decades before they recover from that!

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/08/2018 - 01:06 pm.


      I don’t remember anyone scolding Romney for claiming that Russia the our primary “strategic” adversary. If we go back and look and that we’ll find that it was far more complex discussion. I hate to say it but it actually depends what you mean by: “strategic”.

      One can point to a few military policies that aren’t friendly towards Russia but by and large Trump has spent far more time and energy attacking allies and even his own government while either denying or minimizing Russian hostility. We now have pretty clear evidence that the Trump team and Trump himself wanted to end sanctions, and they still have not applied sanction passed by Congress months ago.

      • Submitted by John Webster on 03/08/2018 - 03:43 pm.


        If you don’t remember Romney being criticized in 2012 for saying that Russia is our primary strategic adversary, then you weren’t paying attention at all. Obama said that Romney was trying to start another cold war. Every left-wing news outlet in the country pounded this theme for many days: ABC, NBC, CBS, CC, MSNBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Minneapolis star Tribune, PBS, and dozens more.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/09/2018 - 08:21 am.


          You’re mischaracterizing the nature of the debate. They argued about the kind of approach, strategies, and policies would best “deal” with Russia, they didn’t argue about whether or not Russia needed to be dealt with. And if you’ll recall, Russia wasn’t the only problem on the table at the time and still isn’t. Who would your say is a bigger threat today? Russia or North Korea?

  6. Submitted by cory johnson on 03/08/2018 - 10:59 am.

    It’s fairly obvious why Russia preferred Trump….

    They felt he would be the most disruptive candidate. They want whomever will cause the greatest division and distraction. Ironically the Russian collusion fantasy that lefties are laser focused on is icing on the cake as far as distraction and division goes. As long as their is a glimmer of hope of finding something, anything to “get” Trump Mueller will be allowed to keep up the charade.

  7. Submitted by cory johnson on 03/08/2018 - 11:02 am.

    Another nasty fact….

    Had Hillary won the Democrats would not have done anything to punish Russia for its interference.

    • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 03/08/2018 - 11:54 am.

      We all have to do better at keeping up with the news! There have been some reputable revelations in recent days about the entanglements Russia put Trump into, starting years before his official campaign for president:

      It’s the money: Trump’s businesses would have collapsed twenty-five years ago, and since, without gigantic infusions of Russian and other former-Soviet-bloc oligarchic investments. Then, of course, he has to make nice with those oligarchs. That’s the “kompromat”–the money.

      Trump has refused to implement the sanctions Congress passed on Russia for interfering with our 2016 election. That’s big, you guys! Those sanctions imposed by Obama late in his Presidency hurt Russia, and oe of Trump’s first actions as president was to try to remove Obama’s sanctions.

      Obama, in October 2016, had convened a meeting of Congressional leaders (the “Gang of Eight” that includes the four leaders of both houses of Congress, plus the chair and ranking member of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees) to discuss our intelligence agencies’ unanimous–if late!–conclusion that Russia was interfering with our campaign and to see if they could issue a unanimous statement about that interference. In Jane Mayer’s article on Christopher Steele in this week’s New Yorker magazine, you’ll read how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was the sole Congressional figure to refuse to reveal the Russian interference to the public! So: the public didn’t know how compromised our election was.

      Also revealed by Mayer: James Comey, FBI Director at the time, interfered with our presidential election not just by doing that absurd little Clinton-emails dance just before the November 8, 2016 election; he refused to reveal that the FBI had been investigating Trump’s ties to Russia since the previous summer! No even-handedness therm I’m afraid.

      We have to have our heads collectively in the sand not to realize–even before Mueller comes up with more proofs of Trump’s Russian involvement–that the Russians started grooming Donald Trump more than a decade ago. They could handle him (pun intended), whereas Hillary Clinton had Putin’s number, and Putin hated her for it. For Putin, from the outset, it was Anybody But Hillary, and he knew that he had Trump already in his pocket.

      Read up!

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/08/2018 - 12:50 pm.

      An excellent point

      …and your support for that position can be found…where, exactly…? I’m not aware of any Democrats at the national level proposing that we should do nothing to interfere with Russian involvement in our political process.

  8. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/08/2018 - 12:00 pm.

    For those who deny any effect of targeted foreign influence….

    $ 200 billion dollars spent on advertising the USA every year. Some in blatant billboards, some in subtle product placement. Some in “push” messages and some in “pull”

    Why would that be spent if there was no impact expected or benefit received ?

    Believe the science or not–marketing works.

    Now who would deny the science?

  9. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/08/2018 - 12:16 pm.

    The state of play:We know

    The state of play:

    We know that Trump and the Trump organization has had multiple contacts and attempted deals with the Russians over the years

    We know that a significant number of units in Trump Tower (and other developments) have had a long history of being bought by murky Russian interests.

    We know that Russia tried to influence the election in favor of Trump.

    We know that multiple key people in the Trump campaign and presidency have had secret contacts and meetings with Russia that they have tried to deny or cover up.

    We know that multiple key people in the Trump administration received economic gain from Russian interests (and other countries).

    We know that multiple people in the administration are unable to obtain security clearance because of their various economic/political issues.

    We know that prior to the election there were multiple attempts to set up back-channel routes of communication between the Russian government and the Trump people.

    But hey–all smoke and no fire.

    • Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 03/08/2018 - 03:41 pm.

      fair and balanced….

      Substitute “the Clinton campaign “in the place of Trump for many of your assertions and they would be equally true.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/08/2018 - 01:33 pm.


    In a lot of ways several issues have gotten conflated here.

    THAT the Russian’s “meddled” is a fact. Whatever Trump says now, he’s spent a good part of the past year claiming that fact was fake news, i.e. denying it was a fact.

    The “meddling” itself isn’t necessarily a bombshell of any kind, and frankly, in the last election cycle it’s unlikely that it had a substantial impact.

    But we have two issues here: one is the fact the meddling, and the other is our president’s response to that meddling. Instead of denouncing and investigating it, he’s been denouncing the investigation, and denying that the meddling occurred. That’s a problem because there’s a labyrinth of Russian connections between Trump and his campaign, connections that Trump likewise has denied. The question isn’t whether or not there was meddling, the question is whether or not Trump encouraged that meddling in some way by assuring the Russian’s that his administration would be more responsive to Russian interests were he to be elected. This could be comparable to the Kissinger/Nixon deal that promised a better to deal for South Vietnamese before the 68 elections, in exchange for their delaying peace talks.

    Yet another issue, is the current response. Our intelligence agencies are jumping up and down warning that the Russians will again try to interfere with our next election, and the White House is literally ignoring those warnings. THAT in and of itself could be an act of treason.

    Here’s the thing, and I haven’t seen anyone talk about except maybe Amy Goodman: I would remind everyone that after the 2001 fiasco, and all the recount fiasco’s since, tens of thousands of electronic voting machines were installed and adopted all over the country. You may recall at the time that shipload of security and computer experts audited those systems and found them to be extremely vulnerable to hacking. You may recall all the controversies about touch pad systems that don’t record or print out any kind of paper receipt or confirmation? Well, none of those issues were ever resolved, they’re all still sitting out there. So the problem in the next election isn’t going to be social media or e-mail hacks. The problem may be actual hacks into voting machines that may or may not be detected or even detectable because so many of these issues have never been resolved. We have a justice department that’s busy suing CA but is doing nothing to secure our vulnerable election machines that’s because we have a White House that’s asleep at the switch… coincidence?

  11. Submitted by Roy Everson on 03/08/2018 - 03:29 pm.

    A nation in denial

    Rather disappointed in Eric’s logic today as well as the credit he gives Trump in speaking in more than colloquial English.

    “…he would end up admitting that “no impact on our votes” really means only that Russia didn’t penetrate into the system for actually counting the ballots that were cast.”

    No, he means the tampering had no effect on the overall election, the results and the process. Trump’s often asserted without facts that it didn’t affect the election, not necessarily distinguishing between the physical votes themselves and the final results. Has he not shown over and over that his usage of language is very simplistic, poor vocabulary and even more poorly thought out?

    If someone said that “the advertising and the candidates views had no impact on our votes” would that imply that no voting machines were tampered with? No, it’s an imprecise but well understood reference to the election outcome.

    He beats this drum because it’s the way demagogs reinforce a propagandistic message, he wants to believe it himself, and he has our full complicity. Some of you still think it’s because Clinton was a poor candidate, an exaggerated claim given Trump’s even poorer candidacy– and the vast majority of scientific polling and people’s guts told us it was Clinton’s day.

    The Russians, don’t forget, have had plenty of practice at this all over the democratic world. They wanted Clinton gone and they got what they wish. It only took about 70,000 votes in three states to make that difference– that’s not much at all!

    It’s only understandable, I suppose, that folks on all sides are in denial because of the true horror that this 230 year old system has been played and that we are being governed in numerous radical directions away from the people’s will as a result; perhaps people are nervous that admitting this will further deteriorate confidence in our system of government. Others — especially those who keep falling back on the Clinton-bad nonsense– may be embarrassed they were fooled by fake news that was aimed at Sanders’s supporters. Just a river in Egypt?

    But eventually careful analysis and scientific studies will show enough people stayed home or changed their voting intentions because of the insidious impact of manufactured fake news that was targeting Clinton in 2016– enough to turn the tide of world history. Will the effect be like that of a hanging chad falling in the forest with no one to hear? Bet on it.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/09/2018 - 08:46 am.


      The dirty little secret about advertising is that in many ways, with a few exceptions, it doesn’t work as effectively as the ad agencies would have you believe. If advertising worked as effectively as people assume Arby’s would have long since displaced McDonald’s and Dr. Pepper would have long since been the most popular soft drink in America. They both have the best commercials.

      The truth is that a variety of factors influence decisions. In American politics we’ve seen multiple elections where candidates have lost despite expensive and extensive spending and campaign ads.

      The most obvious feature of the Russian social media campaign was that it primarily targeted those who had already decided not to vote for Clinton, or were inclined not to vote for Clinton. It didn’t flip Clinton voters, or even Sanders’s voters into Trump Voters. Remember, Clinton actually ended up with three million more votes.

      Clinton lost for a variety reasons, she never had a commanding lead in a race that should have never been close enough to have been influenced by fake news of any kind to begin with. The reason people stayed home was because our two parties gave an election wherein no matter who won, the most unpopular president in history would walk into the White House.

      I can understand the durable impulse to try to turn Russian meddling into some kind of explanation for Clinton’s defeat, but that’s garbage, and it’s not the issue really. Even if Clinton had won we’d still be dealing the problem of Russian “meddling”; the difference is a Clinton White House would likely not be ignoring the threat, or attacking the people trying to investigate the threat and the meddling. In that regard Putin’s biggest asset with Trump is that he’s another crack at our elections and REAL danger is that the next time he’ll actually crack into the machines and change votes.

      In the meantime, one of the most durable features of anything the Clinton’s are associated with is that one way or another it always ends up being about the Clinton’s. THIS is NOT about the Clinton’s. I think we need to stay focused here on Trump, the Russians, their relationship with each other, and the effect it is or is not having our national policies.

  12. Submitted by Solly Johnson on 03/08/2018 - 07:37 pm.


    The only crime that is specifically mentioned in the Constitution is treason and it states that it is giving aid and comfort to the enemy. I do not think that Russia has officially been declared an enemy, although the mainstream media attempts to persuade us so. In a debate with James Risen, Glenn Greenwald did an excellent job of defining treason and cited opinions and articles from a Texas law professor, who incidentally is no fan of Trump.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/09/2018 - 10:59 am.


      Was the Soviet Union an “official” enemy when the Rosenberg were executed for treason?

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/09/2018 - 11:07 am.

        A Brief Word from That Guy

        The Rosenbergs were executed for espionage, not treason. It is doubtful that espionage would be a capital crime today (Aldrich Ames will never leave federal prison).

Leave a Reply