Russia has a vested interest in distracting attention away from the investigation into whether members of President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with the Kremlin, and the Seth Rich story provided an opportunity to do so. Clint Watts, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation counterterrorism agent and fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute told us:
There are several facets to this — [Russian agents] want to push back on the idea, particularly among Trump supporters, that they hacked into the DNC. The way to do that is to put forward this Seth Rich scenario that the information didn’t come form Russian hackers, it came from an [inside] leak.
It rallies Trump’s base, which they have already influenced significantly over the last two years in the U.S. and foments conspiracy theories. And it mirrors what Trump says. Trump denies the findings of the intelligence agencies that Russia did hack into the DNC. [Russian agents] want that to go away as much as possible.
The fact the investigation has yielded such a high-profile scandal means that the election hack appears in that respect to have backfired, making it seem unlikely that Russian President Vladimir Putin will achieve any of his foreign policy ambitions vis-à-vis the United States. What remains unclear is whether they will pay a price for it.