Top Dem Think Tank Scraps Talk of Killing Russia Project

By sam.stein@thedailybeast.com (Sam Stein)
Photo by Evan Vucci/AP

Officials at the Democratic Party’s top think tank recently explored the idea of shutting down an operation devoted to exposing President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia and the Russian government’s interference in American politics.

The talks never came to anything, and in a statement to The Daily Beast, a spokesperson for the Center for American Progress said that it would continue supporting its initiative, The Moscow Project, through the end of the 2020 election.

“CAP is and always has been committed to The Moscow Project since we founded it in 2017,” the spokesperson said. “We are proud to have developed some of the most in-depth expertise on Trump’s corrupt relationship with Russia. The Moscow Project will continue through the election to hold Trump accountable; anybody saying otherwise is unequivocally wrong.” 

The emphatic vote of confidence in The Moscow Project came as a relief to several people: Multiple sources told The Daily Beast that CAP leadership had discussed ending the operation and bringing some of the six-person team back into the larger think tank. 

“People were looking for other jobs,” said one source familiar with the discussions. “And people on the project thought it was going to end.”

Within the progressive ecosystem, The Moscow Project quickly earned a reputation for its role in spearheading and coordinating the Democratic Party’s efforts to spotlight Russia’s political interference. The project has worked closely with lawmakers on the Hill and Democratic stakeholders to craft investigative inquiries and talking points as they pertain to Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s 2016 electoral interference. It has held briefings, worked with members of the media, and produced white papers on U.S. policy vis-a-vis foreign election interference. 

But with the Mueller probe having ended and similarly focused congressional investigations coming to a close or morphing into quasi-impeachment proceedings, there was some question as to whether The Moscow Project was still needed and, if so, in what capacity. 

A CAP aide denied that senior officials had contemplated shutting down The Moscow Project, which, despite having a separate website and email domain, is not an independent entity from CAP, and is staffed by Center for American Progress Action Fund employees. But inside the think tank—and the wider Democratic Party—there have been broader discussions over how to adjust to the political landscape in the wake of the Mueller report.

The Moscow Project itself has shifted focus towards pressuring the House Judiciary Committee to push for Mueller’s underlying evidence and to interview some of his key witnesses. Preparations are underway to deal with likely Russian election interference during the 2020 campaign—perhaps on a scale larger than in 2016. 

But those efforts have come with some friction. Internally at CAP, there is a divide over how firmly to remain focused on Russia as an electoral issue and how aggressively to push for congressional Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings. Inside the building, The Moscow Project is thought to have been more aggressive in prioritizing these matters than others inside the think tank. Some of those disagreements, sources say, have appeared to pop up on Twitter from time to time. 

Center for American Progress Action Fund President and CEO Neera Tanden has issued a statement in support of Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler’s decision to open an inquiry into whether to proceed to impeachment. But neither she nor CAP has formally called for starting impeachment proceedings—reflecting the position of Democratic leadership itself. 

CAP itself is already going through some organizational realignment. Last week, the think tank announced that it would be shutting down its editorially independent website, ThinkProgress. Senior officials cited untenable budget shortfalls as the reason for doing so, but sources told The Daily Beast that they believed it was part of a larger effort to consolidate their operations (and messaging) under one roof. 

“CAP leadership seems to be trying to dismantle all the pieces of infrastructure that exist to push Democrats to the left and this felt like part of that,” said one source.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!

Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.