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Pat MurphyThe chatter over Russian hacking of Democratic National Committee emails seems overblown. Moscow’s role is interesting, but the huffing and puffing about the iniquity of one country trying to influence another’s election is silly.

It happens all the time – Americans included.

John F. Kennedy subtly targeted John Diefenbaker in Canada’s 1963 federal election. The idea was to replace him with what Kennedy perceived as the friendlier, and more malleable, Lester Pearson.

Barack Obama injected himself into the recent Brexit referendum campaign, warning the Brits that a vote to leave the European Union would send them to “the back of the queue” for any trade deal with America.

As for the Russians influencing American elections, Nikita Khrushchev claimed they did precisely that in 1960. When he met Kennedy at their 1961 Vienna summit, Khrushchev told him, “We cast the deciding vote when you beat that son-of-a-bitch Nixon.”

Asked how, Khrushchev’s response was succinct: “We waited to release the spy pilots until after the election. So Nixon could not claim he knew how to deal with the Russians.”

But perhaps the most intriguing – albeit speculative – example of Russian involvement with American politics dates to 1984. Historian Paul Kengor’s 2006 book The Crusader has chapter and verse.

Kengor’s story refers to a document first reported in London’s Sunday Times on Feb. 2, 1992. Entitled “Teddy, the KGB and the top secret file,” it purportedly came from the Soviet archives and detailed an alleged attempt by Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy to enlist the help of Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov in preventing President Ronald Reagan’s re-election.

The document, ascribed to KGB head Viktor Chebrikov, was dated May 14, 1983, and referred to a May 9-10 visit to Moscow by former Democratic Sen. John Tunney. Tunney and Kennedy were very close, having been 1950s law school roommates. Tunney’s first child was named after Kennedy and Kennedy was best man at Tunney’s second wedding.

According to Chebrikov, Kennedy’s message, via Tunney, went like this:

Kennedy was “very troubled” by two things about Reagan: his “belligerence” and the ineffectiveness of his political opponents. Kennedy thought that issues of “war and peace and Soviet-American relations” were potential chinks in Reagan’s armour. It was all a matter of finding a way to exploit the weaknesses.

To that end, Kennedy wanted Andropov to invite him to Moscow for a personal meeting, at which Kennedy would coach Andropov and other Soviet officials on how to make their case to the American people. In addition, he’d use his media contacts to arrange televised interviews in which Andropov could get the message across. Walter Cronkite and Barbara Walters were among the names suggested as potential interviewers.

While nothing ultimately came of this and Andropov died in early 1984, the question lingers: Is the Chebrikov memo genuine?

Kengor certainly thinks so, noting that Kennedy’s office didn’t dispute its authenticity when he published Chebrikov’s full text in his 2006 book. They did, however, question the interpretation, without specifying who – Chebrikov or Kengor – was mistaken.

And after the Sunday Times story broke in 1992, a Kennedy spokesman told the Boston Herald that Kennedy had attempted to meet with Andropov but nothing came of it. But the spokesman claimed that “the rest of the memo is KGB fiction.”

Tunney described it as “bull—-” and “preposterous,” although he acknowledged making many trips to Moscow over the years and knowing people in the KGB.

Then there’s the distinction between an authentic KGB document and a truthful one. As political scientist Stephen Cohen points out, the KGB was capable of inventing things.

But maybe the savviest final word belongs to Ken Adelman, Reagan’s director of Arms Control and Disarmament. Professing no knowledge of whether the story is true, Adelman considers it insignificant: “We knew senators were doing this sort of thing all the time and we ignored it. We didn’t think it was important, and it wasn’t.”

Sometimes cynicism and realism are siblings. Remember that as you follow the breathless twists and turns of the news cycle.

Pat Murphy casts a history buff’s eye at the goings-on in our world. Never cynical – well perhaps a little bit.

© Troy Media

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