Much as President Trump has downplayed, distanced himself from, and altogether denied the effect Russian cyber-interference had in his 2016 electoral win, the broad consensus across Washington — from the intelligence community to the nation's top diplomat to both chambers of Congress — is that malign foreign powers have attempted to influence American elections, and will almost certainly continue to do so.
Given that near-certainty, Trump's own State Department this week announced a massive $10 million pay out "for information leading to the identification or location of any person who works with or for a foreign government for the purpose of interfering with U.S. elections through certain illegal cyber activities."
The bounty, offered through the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, specifically threatens prosecution under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a broad piece of legislation that covers cases of accessing computers and data without or beyond one's assigned authorization. If convicted under the law, perpetrators could face years — even decades — in prison, as well as hefty fines.
As is probably to be expected considering the, shall we say, disparate opinions regarding foreign interference in the election process — from paranoid #Resistance types who see clandestine Russian plots everywhere, to the other end of the spectrum, where foreign interference is nothing but a figment of imagination in the minds of overly suspicious Twitter grifters — the State Department's announcement prompted its fair share of deeply uninspired suggestions:
Perhaps more frustrating than the litany of lazy Twitter jokes is the layer of truth beneath their surface, as evidenced not only by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on the 2016 election, but by Trump's own words since assuming office. Just last year he bragged that he'd gladly take information on his opponent gleaned from random foreign sources in the upcoming presidential race:
"I think you might want to listen, there isn't anything wrong with listening," Trump told ABC News in June 2019. "If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said,] ‘We have information on your opponent.' Oh, I think I'd want to hear it." It was a shocking, if altogether unsurprising statement from someone who once actively called for Russians to hack his opponent's emails (which they ultimately, y'know ... did), which prompted Mueller's massive investigation into his electoral operations.
According to the State Department, their bounty program has "paid in excess of $150 million to more than 100 people across the globe who provided actionable information that helped prevent terrorism, bring terrorist leaders to justice, and resolve threats to U.S. national security."