Despite the triumphant cackling coming from Moscow, there is one person the Mueller report definitely does not exonerate: Vladimir Putin. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team indicted 12 Russian military intelligence hackers by name last year, and provided exquisite detail about their attempts to subvert the 2016 presidential election, right down to their individual keystrokes. In his brief summary of what may be hundreds of pages of Mueller’s evidence and conclusions, Attorney General William Barr confirmed that the Russians mounted a disinformation campaign through social media, hacked into Democratic Party servers, and published stolen emails via WikiLeaks. Russia, Mueller found, made “multiple offers” of assistance to the Trump campaign.
It’s good news for our democracy that the president did not enter into a criminal conspiracy with Russia, though Trumpworld was clearly receptive to its help. (“If it’s what you say, I love it…” “Russia, if you’re listening…”) But Putin’s aggressive attempt to undermine a presidential election, Mueller also concluded, was no hoax. Nor is it “fake news” that Putin’s gangster state is successfully using cyberwarfare, financial corruption, and disinformation to deepen the divisions in the U.S. and other Western democracies. Evidence indicates Putin secretly provided support to the “Leave” vote in the U.K., so as to weaken the EU, and to far-right parties throughout Europe. Russia’s military protected Syria’s genocidal dictator, Bashar al-Assad, and joined him in bombing civilians. Putin has sent Russian soldiers to Venezuela, to keep strongman Nicolás Maduro in power. This week, a gloating Putin spokesman said Mueller had wasted two years proving that Russian election interference was “an obvious fake.” In propaganda, the bigger and more brazen the lie, the better. Putin will be coming back in 2020, to create more chaos and sow more doubt about the election results. Will our government do everything possible to stop him?