Foreign Interference: the Commission

Foreign Interference: the Commission

The National Assembly Commission on the Political, Economic, and Financial Interference by Foreign Powers . . . with the Purpose of Influencing or Corrupting Opinion, Leaders, and French Political Parties, just ended its work. It was preceded by commissions in other countries and the EU: in the United States, The Mueller Report (2019) and the Select Senate Intelligence Committee on Russia (2020), the European Union Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European (INGE), including Disinformation (2021, with INGE 2 continuing), and the UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament: Russia (2020).

The British were particularly concerned about foreign interference in favor of the “Leave” position on Brexit. Stewart Hosie, an MP from Scottish National party on the Intelligence and Security committee, which conducted the investigation, had this to say: “The report reveals that no one in government knew if Russia interfered in or sought to influence the referendum because they did not want to know.  The UK Government have actively avoided looking for evidence that Russia interfered.  We were told that they hadn’t seen any evidence, but that is meaningless if they hadn’t looked for it.” The government ruled for years by a Conservative party in an apparent state of exhaustion, beat back calls for a fuller discussion, to say nothing of action.[1]

The Mueller Report was undermined by Attorney General William Barr before its release:

The US Senate Intelligence Report was dropped into the memory hole.

The French situation must have seemed less urgent.  In the 2017 election, Marine Le Pen, as an opponent of France’s membership in NATO and the EU (she called for a “Frexit”),  received a loan from a bank under Putin’s influence.  At the same time, Macron was subject to a campaign of “hack and leak” as the UK report calls it,  with phony documents mixed in with actual documents, the most serious alleging that he had a secret offshore bank account in the Bahamas.

Macron undoubtedly benefited from the fact that Brexit and the US presidential election had come first, preparing the way for any such leaked information to be regarded with suspicion.  The Macron “revelations” also came very late in the process, just days before the election, and were met with aggressive pushback from his campaign–and from the media, who actually investigated the leaked documents (instead of, for example, taking polls about how people felt about them).

 The following reporting from France24 (the English version) lays out clearly what had happened.  The bank account story broke on May 3; the France 24 report came on May 4, 2017; the election was coming up on May 7, a Sunday:

Macron won the 2017 election, 66% v. 33%; in the 2022 election, it was 58% Macron v. 42% Le Pen.

Nevertheless the episode had occurred, and in the following years the Russian-funded network, RT France, had devoted massive coverage to the Gilets jaunes protests, the most serious crisis of Macron’s first term.  (RT France was shut down several days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.)  In early 2018, the newspaper Libération, in a story about fake news, cited the Bahamas bank account as an egregious example.  They were tweeted at by Wallerand de Saint Just, the treasurer of the National Front (as it was still called): “How do you know this news is fake?  It has not been [proved] for the moment”–meaning, as the newspaper pointed out, that any accusation, even one without foundation, deserved to be kept alive until the negative was definitively proved.[2].

In spite of this background, however, it was the Rassemblement National party, in the person of first-term deputy Jean-Philippe Tanguy, who called for the recent parliamentary investigation into foreign “meddling” in France’s internal affairs.  Tanguy, age 37, has considerable political experience.  He was a member of Nicolas Dupont d’Aignan’s Debout la France, a sovereignist (anti EU) party from 2012-2020; he had become acquainted with Marine Le Pen as he had sought to bring their two parties together, and had joined the RN in 2020.  He should have known better, in other words.

Tanguy, however, saw his new political home as being forever tarred by the accusation of ties to Russia and Putin, and he wished to continue on the path of “normalizing” the party.  He naively believed that he could, once and for all, put to rest the allegation that Marine Le Pen was beholden to her Russian paymasters and had slanted her policies in a pro-Russian direction, or at least in a direction (like her anti-EU stance) that pleased Putin.  Macron had brought up the bank loan in the 2022 debate, and it seemed that it would never go away:

Tanguy was not alone to blame, for he had brought this proposal first to RN president Jordan Bardella, in response to an attack by Stéphane Séjourné, a eurodeputy who leads the Renew Europe group within the EU Parliament.  Séjourné is also the new president of Macron’s party Renaissance, where  his task is to structure the party, to “anchor” it in the countryside (its greatest strength is in Paris) and generally to prepare it for a post-Macron future after he finishes his two terms. Jordan Bardella, head of the RN list in 2019, is also in the European Parliament, and on September 14, 2022, in a debate on “the state of the [European] Union, Bardella had freely criticized the many mistakes of Macron and others.  Sejourné’s reply: “You have been for some years in close connection with the Russian government and today you’re lecturing us.”[3]

Hard ball.  And the idea of a commission of inquiry to put this kind of insult to rest, once and for all, must have seemed appealing.  Tanguy presided over the Commission, whose sessions were streamed, in a calm and impartial manner, and with a great deal of courtesy towards the witnesses.

But what matters, in the end, is who writes the history.  And in this case, the rapporteure, Renaissance deputy Constance Le Grip, who sat beside him in all the hearings, produced a report that was centered on the links between the Front/Rassemblement National and Russia.  The report was leaked to the media before it was officially released.  Presidents, or presiding officers, of commissions typically write a brief preface to reports, perhaps expressing a few disagreements, but generally just a few pages in length.  Tanguy’s preface, in the released report, runs from pp. 17 to 79 of the report.  He called the report a “sabotage,” a transformation of a serious issue into a political attack.  He said that the Commission members had voted to approve it without having read it.[4]

Backbenchers were snickering at Tanguy’s “brilliant idea,” though Marine Le Pen issued a statement that she still had confidence in him.

Tanguy is still devoted to clearing the Party’s name. And now the issue has been revived, there is a lot more clearing to do.


Header Image: Photo 124525184 © Spettacolare |

[1] Dan Sabbagh, Luke Harding, Andrew Roth, “Russia report reveals UK government failed to investigate Kremlin interference,” The Guardian, July 21, 2020.

[2] “Le trésorier du FN relance l’intox sur le compte de Macron aux Bahamas,” Libération, January 5, 2018.

[3] Hugo Struna, “French MEP Stéphane Séjourné voted leader of new presidential party,” Euractiv, September 19, 2022.; Hugo Struna, “French MEP Stéphane Séjourné voted leader of new presidential party,” Euractiv, September 19, 2022.

[4] Marylou Magal, “Ingérences russes: ciblé, le RN lance sa contre-attaque,” Le Figaro, June 8, 2023.“Ingérences étrangères: le député Jean-Philippe Tanguy dénounce ‘un sabotage opéré à travers un rapport malhonnête,’” Valeurs actuelles, June 9, 2023. 

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