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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse speaks at a hearing on Russian and the 2016 election. Photo: Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Russia's success in waging its disinformation campaign during the 2016 presidential election stemmed largely from a web of government bureaucracy that placed too much confidence in American standing and institutions, according to The Washington Post.

Why it matters: Russia's success in influencing the 2016 election came as government officials couldn't agree on a legal, satisfactory course of action or counterattack — and, for the most part, they still haven't. That leaves the critical 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential election similarly open to foreign targeting and disruption.

If you read only one paragraph: "U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies saw some warning signs of Russian meddling in Europe and later in the United States but never fully grasped the breadth of the Kremlin's ambitions. Top U.S. policymakers didn't appreciate the dangers, then scrambled to draw up options to fight back. In the end, big plans died of internal disagreement, a fear of making matters worse or a misguided belief in the resilience of American society and its democratic institutions."

The big trends from WaPo's report:

  • Everything stems from the end of the Cold War, when American officials believed that Russia would be a friend going forward. And when relations later foundered, Russia was simply dismissed as a "third-rate regional power."
  • European nations had long warned of the Russian disinformation threat but were largely ignored. European representatives reacted with bemusement to a presentation by American officials on Russian disinformation at NATO headquarters shortly before Trump's inauguration.
  • It's not about supporting President Trump. Instead, Russia's goal is all about sowing discord in American society in order to distract the United States from reacting to Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions.

Go deeper

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress sprints to meet crush of deadlines

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Congressional leaders have been pushing off vital action for months — and a lot of it will catch up with them in December, which begins Wednesday.

Driving the news: Funding for the federal government is set to expire at midnight on Friday. There are also consequential deadlines related to the debt limit, President Biden's agenda and annual actions like voting on the National Defense Authorization Act.

2 hours ago - World

U.S. fears Iran won’t scale back to 2015 nuclear deal

Officials gather in Vienna on Sept. 29 for the first day of renewed nuclear talks with Iran. Photo: EU Vienna Delegation/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

U.S. officials have extremely low expectations as world powers resume negotiations with Iran to curb its nuclear program, believing the Iranians aren't yet ready to negotiate seriously, Axios is told.

Driving the news: Senior officials in the U.S. intelligence community have assessed the new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, thinks of his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, as a weak accommodationist who negotiated a bad deal with the U.S. and other world powers in 2015.