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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The road to yesterday's ransacking of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob began four years ago with the Russian theft of Democratic party emails.

Why it matters: Russia aims to undermine U.S. democracy, and this week's turmoil is another sign of its success.

The big picture: Disinformation campaigns work in the short term to target enemies and in the long term to undermine the stability of social systems.

Be smart: The people who invaded Congress Wednesday to stop the certification of a U.S. presidential election weren't paid by the Kremlin or acting under orders from Putin. But their actions — like those of the president who stoked their rage with lies — couldn't have been more aligned with Russia's goals when it attacked the U.S. political system in 2016.

  • The short-term goal was to help elect Trump, whom the Kremlin accurately viewed as a force for chaos and disruption in Washington.
  • The long-term goal was to create lasting mistrust among Americans in their own elections.

Trump took the ball and ran with it. That left the U.S. with a population of tens of millions of people who now believe, without any evidence and against the rulings of dozens of state and federal courts, that Biden stole the White House from Trump.

  • On cue after Wednesday's events, Russian government and media outlets cheered on Trump's complaints against the American press and the U.S.'s "archaic" election system even while commiserating over the U.S.'s humiliation, per the Daily Beast.

Context: The U.S. failed to treat the 2016 attack as the declaration of cyber-war that it was.

  • Trump saw investigations into Russian disinformation as efforts to undermine the legitimacy of his win.

That left the U.S. vulnerable, and today we are paying the price:

  • With the SolarWinds hack, Russian cyber-saboteurs gained access to a still unknown number of U.S. government and corporate networks. They're still there.
  • But the Capitol invasion shows that Putin no longer needs to send his hackers to pilfer Nancy Pelosi's email. Rioters waving Trump flags are now willing to do that work.

Between the lines: The work of undermining trust in the American system that began with clandestine cyber operations is now undertaken out in the open on social media platforms and right-wing media outlets.

What's next: Restoring trust takes longer than demolishing it.

  • Documenting Russia's past mischief and completing long-stymied investigations into Trump's entanglements with Moscow will be an important part of shoring up Americans' faith in their system.
  • But so will finding new ways to disassemble the alternate-reality information systems that inspire events like the Capitol siege.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with information about reactions from Russia.

Go deeper

Jan 27, 2021 - World

At Davos, Putin points to U.S. to warn Big Tech is driving social divisions

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin told the virtual “Davos Agenda” conference on Wednesday that recent events in the U.S. had underscored the danger of “public discontent” combined with “modern technology.”

The big picture: Putin, a late addition to the speakers' list, is facing protests at home over the arrest of opposition figure Alexey Navalny. Several experts and activists criticized the World Economic Forum for inviting him, with chess champion and Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov tweeting that Putin’s appearance showed he was “desperate to reassure his cronies he's still acceptable in the West despite his brutal crackdown.”

“You blew it”: GOP activist turns on corporations over vaccine mandates

The chairman of the American Conservative Union said on "Axios on HBO" he accepts "Joe Biden is my president, and I want him to succeed," but predicted Republicans retake the House and Senate in 2022 — with greater than 50% odds Donald Trump runs in 2024.

The big picture: In a joint interview with his wife, Mercedes, Matt Schlapp also refused to share their vaccination status. And he told corporate America "you blew it" by embracing vaccine mandates and liberal social stances that have alienated GOP voters and politicians.

43 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Pelosi expects “billionaire’s tax” to pay for Biden social spending

Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Sunday she expects the chamber to pass the bipartisan infrastructure plan by week’s end, and alternatives to corporate tax hikes and a “billionaires tax” will be used to finance President Biden’s promised expansion to the social safety net.

Why it matters: Pelosi’s comments come as House and Senate leaders try to wrap up a deal. What will get cut — and how the remainder will be paid — are linchpins to a final agreement.