In the 2016 campaign, the Russian military, at the direction of Vladimir Putin, engaged in a multi-million dollar campaign of theft, collusion, and disinformation that included hacking into emails, buying ads on both social media and radio, creating fake web sites that pretended to be everything from local news to political parties, and conducted live, on the ground, “protests” inside the United States. They created thousands of web sites, tens of thousands of false accounts, and passed around millions of messages designed to not just divide America, but weaken Hillary Clinton and support Donald Trump. Russian agents also attempted to hack into voter registrations and electoral results at both the state and county level—and there has been increasing evidence that some, of not many, of those efforts were successful.
Meanwhile, one of the 423 members of Ukrainian parliament complained about Donald Trump’s 2015 statement that Crimea “was part of Russia” in a post on his personal Facebook page.
Over the course of the Impeachment hearings, Republicans have presented a ridiculous list of items—including an op-ed, an interview quote, and that Facebook complaint—to support claims that “more than one country” interfered in the 2016 election. Never mind that the investigation Trump was trying to foist on Ukraine was based on a conspiracy theory designed to exonerate Russia, the idea that an individual openly authoring a Facebook post or op-ed, is equivalent to a subversive military campaign designed to split America along lines of race … is worse than ridiculous.
But this isn’t the first time Republicans have made this sort of shoulder-dislocating reach. Before Ukraine became the target du jour, Republicans cast around desperately for some other example they could use in an effort to make the Russian support of Trump look less like the singular, decisive factor it turned out to be. And one the same Republicans in the inquiry this week, one of the same men playing up that Facebook post, championed may what be the most ridiculous example of “foreign interference” put forward during the last three years.
This is the forgotten story of Republican Mike Conaway and how Mexico stole the election.
On January 12, 2017, a week before Donald Trump took office, Texas Republican Rep. Mike Conaway called a press conference to report urgent news. The House Intelligence Committee member had unearthed another example of foreign actors intervening to tip the balance of a U.S. election.
As The Dallas Morning News reported, Conaway had turned up a plot every bit as insidious as the Russians.
Turner: "Harry Reid and the Democrats brought in Mexican soap opera stars, singers and entertainers who had immense influence in those communities into Las Vegas, to entertain, get out the vote and so forth. Those are foreign actors, foreign people, influencing the vote in Nevada.”
Even though, in those early pre-investigation days, the full extent of Russian operations in the United States was far from understood, this comparison still struck reporters at the Morning News as something of a shoulder-dislocating stretch. But Conaway insisted he was serious. When he was asked whether he considered getting a Mexican singer to croon a song was “on par with Russian cyber-intrusions,” Turner did not equivocate.
Turner: “Sure it is, it's foreign influence.”
Conaway’s statements were passed off by many as laughable. And, of course they are. After all, it’s impossible to genuinely compare the secretive Russian effort to upend the campaign with the open statements of individuals, like those in Ukraine, or the endorsement of foreign entertainers that were used by both campaigns.
But Conaway wasn’t really interested in the “foreign influence” of Vicente Fernández, waving to fans at a Clinton rally (and he certainly wasn’t interested in the fact that the other entertainers there were actually Mexican-American). What Conaway was trying to do wasn’t generate an investigation into the influence of Mexico in the election.
What he was trying to do was diminish the obvious impact of the Russian intrusion, to make it seem like just one of many, to excuse the idea of laughing it off. And that’s exactly what Conaway, Devin Nunes, and others are still doing when they wave op-eds and Facebook posts to “prove” Ukrainian interference in the election.