In 1992, when President George Bush was behind in the polls in his re-election campaign against Bill Clinton, a group of Republican lawmakers suggested to White House officials that they ask the British and Russian governments to dig up unflattering information on Mr. Clinton’s actions protesting the Vietnam War during his time in London, and to look into a visit he made to Moscow.
“They wanted us to contact the Russians or the British to seek information on Bill Clinton’s trip to Moscow,” James A. Baker III, Mr. Bush’s chief of staff, wrote in a memo at the time. “I said we absolutely could not do that.”
Ten former chiefs of staff for five former presidents — Ronald Reagan, both Bushes, Mr. Clinton and Barack Obama — have all said they would have considered such a prospect unacceptable.
But that doesn’t mean the Russians haven’t tried. The Soviet Union offered to help Adlai Stevenson make a third presidential run in 1960, a proposal he turned down. The Soviet ambassador likewise offered to help finance Hubert Humphrey’s campaign in 1968, drawing another rejection. And Leonid Brezhnev told Gerald R. Ford that he would “do everything we can” to help him win in 1976, a comment Mr. Ford brushed off without taking seriously.
Doesn’t the U.S. meddle in other countries?
The Central Intelligence Agency helped overthrow elected leaders in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s and backed violent coups in several other countries in the 1960s. It plotted assassinations and supported brutal anti-Communist governments in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The C.I.A. has planted misinformation and, at times, used cash as a way to achieve foreign policy aims.
But experts have argued that modern American efforts are not morally equivalent to those in Russia. In recent decades, American efforts have been geared toward promoting candidates who challenge authoritarian leaders. Russian efforts, on the other hand, are meant to sow discord.
“We often consider ourselves and hold ourselves out as an example of how other countries should conduct themselves,” Mr. Potter said. “When we have internal battles or things have gone wrong here, it is much harder to do that.”
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