Cato Institute investigating blog post by senior fellow that spread election conspiracy theories

Natasha Bertrand
·2 min read

The libertarian Cato Institute is investigating a blog post published by one of its senior fellows, a former economic policy adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, that contains conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and seeks to defend pro-Trump rioters who stormed the Capitol last week.

Andrei Illarionov, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, made baseless accusations in a post on his personal Live Journal blog on Friday that the storming of the capitol was a “trap” set by police following deliberate “provocation” by Black Lives Matter activists and Democrats.

He also amplified unfounded claims about antifa infiltrating the protests, claimed it is “still unknown” who won the 2020 presidential election, accused the leadership of the Democratic Party of "seeking to establish its monopoly dominance in the country,” and wrote that rioters were “definitely not” violating the U.S. Constitution when they broke into the building.

The rhetoric stands in stark contrast to a statement released last week by Cato Institute President and CEO Peter Goettler, who called the Capitol assault “a direct attack on the Constitution of the United States, the rule of law, and our constitutional republic.”

Illarionov’s comments are now “under discussion among senior management” and with Illarionov directly, said Corie Whalen, a Cato spokesperson.

“The senior management team at the Cato Institute categorically rejects the claims made in the blog post by Mr. Illarionov,” Whalen said in a statement to POLITICO. “The matter is under discussion among senior management and with Mr. Illarionov. The violent disruption of constitutional processes is unacceptable and must be rejected unequivocally. Mob rule is no path to liberty. Attempting to forcibly keep a defeated president in power strikes at the core of the Constitution’s provisions for protecting the rights and liberties of the American people.”

Cato is one of several institutions and entities that have further tried to distance themselves from President Donald Trump and his allies in the wake of the deadly Capitol attack. But some analysts have raised concerns that Illarionov’s comments are legitimized by virtue of his affiliation with the think tank, and again raise the specter of Russian attempts to sow chaos and doubt in the legitimacy of U.S. elections.

Ilya Zaslavskiy, a researcher now leading a project on post-Soviet kleptocracy, called Illarionov’s posts “downright dangerous,” noting that they are shared widely within Russia and among Russian-American Trump supporters.

“Appearing academic and analytical, he fuels further hatred and insurrection,” Zaslavskiy said.

Illarionov’s Cato Institute biography says he served as Putin’s “chief economic adviser” from 2000 to December 2005, and “has been a long‐time friend of the Cato Institute.” Illarionov did not immediately respond to a request for comment.