Mueller indicts Russians for election interference
President Trump this week furiously downplayed suggestions that Russian meddling helped him win the presidency, after Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for allegedly interfering in the 2016 election in support of Trump. Those charged were accused of working at the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency—a St. Petersburg–based troll farm that, according to the 37-page indictment, set out to “sow discord in the U.S. political system” by spreading disinformation and divisive memes on social media. The effort began in 2014, but as the presidential election approached, employees were ordered to “use any opportunity to criticize” Hillary Clinton and other Democratic and Republican candidates—except Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders, because “we support them.” Some Russians were in contact with “unwitting individuals” associated with the Trump campaign. But Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, announcing the charges, said “there is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant” or that the Russian trolls “altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”
Trump immediately declared vindication, tweeting, “The Trump campaign did nothing wrong—no collusion!” But he later lashed out over the indictment in a weekend tweetstorm—rebuking his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, for saying Russia’s election interference is now “incontrovertible”; blaming former President Barack Obama for not preventing Moscow’s meddling; and accusing FBI agents of failing to prevent the Florida high school shooting because “they are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.”
What the editorials said
“So much for the idea that Russia meddling in last year’s election was a hoax,” said the Los Angeles Times. Mueller’s indictment contains a “dizzying” level of detail about the Kremlin-led troll campaign, with Russians masquerading as Black Lives Matter activists on Facebook and buying online ads targeting battleground states that declared, “Hillary is a Satan.” They organized rallies in the U.S., and spread fabricated quotes claiming Clinton wanted sharia law. The aim was clear: to suppress the Democratic vote, move the election in Trump’s favor, and strike at the “heart of what America is.”
“Yes, the operation was outrageous,” said the New York Post. But as Rosenstein acknowledged, the indictment contains no proof of a Trump-Putin plot to steal the election. The Internet Research Agency began meddling “more than a year before anyone thought Trump would run.” The only reason the Russians began favoring him in mid-2016 is because Clinton “was the clear favorite,” and so the best target to slam to spread discord. Like everyone else, the Russians could never have dreamed that Trump would actually win.
What the columnists said
Trump is far from exonerated by this indictment, said Abigail Tracy in VanityFair.com. Rosenstein spoke “carefully”: He acknowledged there was no allegation of collusion in this particular document, but the indictment says nothing about the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s servers, or “Donald Trump Jr.’s infamous June 2016 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.” And while no one knows Mueller’s next chess move, he just systematically laid out Russia’s criminal activity—shattering the illusion of a witch hunt and making it harder for Trump to fire him.
For all the alarmism, it’s not clear Russian trolls impacted the 2016 result, said Byron York in WashingtonExaminer.com. Looking at the key states, the Russians spent $1,979 on ads in Wisconsin, $823 in Michigan, and $300 in Pennsylvania. “This is not the stuff of rigging elections.” Liberals are so determined to see Trump “in an orange jumpsuit,” said Wesley Pruden in WashingtonTimes.com, “few of them recognize the Russian game for what it is.” President Vladimir Putin wasn’t out to pick a president. He wanted to “set American against American”—which is exactly what Democrats do every time they shout “Collusion!”
We will likely never know if Russia’s schemes changed the election’s outcome, said Jennifer Rubin in WashingtonPost.com. It’s impossible to calculate exactly how many Democrats didn’t cast a ballot because of the hacked emails and bot messages portraying Clinton as the corrupt, evil enemy of blacks and Sanders voters. The debate over whether our democracy was compromised will almost certainly run for years. And that, in and of itself, is “an accomplishment for Russian counterintelligence.”