Just one report that Russia is meddling again in US elections has pitched Washington into a meltdown that will only further the Kremlin's goal of tarnishing US democracy.
Bombshell reports last week revealed that US intelligence agencies identified a new Russian election interference effort -- and suggested the Kremlin was betting on US President Donald Trump. But now, intelligence officials are backtracking, telling CNN they actually do not have evidence that Russia's interference is aimed at reelecting Trump.
Confused? Great. The back and forth perfectly suits Russia's original disinformation blueprint, fomenting pandemonium in US politics that turns American against American. Intelligence officials have also said that Russia is assisting the campaign of surging Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders -- a suggestion also floated by Trump, a skilled weaver of misinformation himself.
Thickening the plot, White House aides darkly mutter that the Vermont senator honeymooned in Soviet-era Moscow. Meanwhile, Democrats are back to branding the President as a Russian puppet. The only certainty in this feud is that some Americans will see as illegitimate whatever happens in the November presidential election.
Now add chaos at the heart of the intelligence establishment: Trump is currently purging top spy chiefs whom he suspects are part of a "Deep State" plot against him. This, after he previously accepted Putin's denials about 2016 election meddling, despite his own spies' assessments.
Even at the height of the Cold War, Russian agents could only have dreamed of sowing such corrosive distrust in the heart of American democratic institutions. It must be especially sweet for Putin, the former KGB officer who bitterly watched the West triumph from his post in Dresden as East Germany dissolved.