The news of the indictments of Russian nationals by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team should come as a shock to both sides in the Russia debate. On one hand, the news makes it more difficult for President Trump to deny that Vladimir Putin’s Russia meddled in the election while, on the other hand, it dims prospects that Trump himself will be indicted for illegal collusion with the Russians.
The indictments, which can be read in full on CNN, name 13 Russian nationals and three Russian organizations for illegal interference in the election, beginning as early as 2014. According to the indictment, the Russians used computer equipment, both in the US and abroad to “obstruct the lawful functions of the United States through fraud and deceit.” The Russian operatives used both false identities and stolen American social media accounts to purchase political ads, create false grassroots organizations and even stage political rallies.
“The defendants allegedly conducted what they called information warfare against the United States, with the stated goal of
spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said.
The good news for the Trump Administration is that there are so far no indictments of Trump campaign members for illegal collusion with the Russians. The indictment states, “Some Defendants, posing as US. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.” These unwitting individuals in the Trump campaign are not named and presumably will not be charged.
“There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” Rosenstein added. “There is no allegation in the indictment that the charge conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.” Rosenstein did point out that the investigation is ongoing.
Although the round of indictments does not end Mueller’s investigation, it is becoming more and more doubtful that President Trump will be implicated. There are five possibilities for the future findings of the investigation:
- Evidence of President Trump’s illegal collusion with the Russians will emerge.
- Evidence of President Trump’s collusion will emerge, but will not have been illegal.
- There will be evidence of illegal collusion by other members of the Trump campaign.
- There will evidence of collusion by member of the Trump campaign that did not break the law.
- There will be evidence of collusion by the Trump campaign.
Of five likely scenarios, four would result in no indictment of Donald Trump. Others would result primarily in embarrassing the
The evidence strongly indicates that the Russians interfered in the 2016 campaign. It also indicates that by mid-2016 the Russians were actively supporting Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. At this point, the evidence also indicates that the Russians acted alone.
If the goal of the Russians was to create chaos, division and mistrust in the United States, then it is easy to see why they might have supported Donald Trump even without active collusion from his campaign. As president, Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked the FBI and other intelligence agencies, the frontline of defense against Russian covert operations, without providing evidence of their corruption. An added bonus for the Russians is that President Trump has so far refused to implement the sanctions passed against Russia by Congress last year.
Robert Mueller is one of the biggest winners of the day. Through months of accusations that his investigation was a sham designed to impeach President Trump and that his investigation was going too long without producing results, Mueller persevered. The indictments today prove that Mueller takes seriously his charter to investigate interference in the election, not just collusion by the Trump campaign.
With Trump Administration officials already warning against Russian interference in this year’s midterms, the charge that Russia conducted “information warfare” against the United States should be difficult for President Trump to ignore. As he appears to grow safer from indictment (other than on perjury or obstruction charges), he may feel more free to address this very real threat against the United States.