Donald Trump and his political circus on Fox News and the alt-Right web have been crowing about the Mueller indictments of 13 Russian nationals and in some bizarre alternate universe take, are floating a rendering of events suggesting that Trump is now in the clear based on them.
What are they thinking? Not sure if they are thinking at all, but this is what they are using to sell to their audience this trip to fantasy land. Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, commenting on the substance of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s latest indictments:
“There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the [Russians’] conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”
If you read this and expand the context beyond what Rosenstein is actually saying, you get conclusions such as that of ‘Chicks On The Right’, who assert, “This stunning admission both seemingly clears the Trump campaign from accusations of collusion with Russia, and puts a stop to the idea that President Trump won the election due to Russian interference.” Carried to it’s incompetent and illogical conclusion, to quote them, “Trump’s off the hook”. He is in the sense that he is an out of control mess, but not in terms of the ongoing investigation.
What they would like you to overlook, is specifically Rosenstein’s wording “in this indictment”. The indictment -outlining charges of Russian operation of troll farms and other interference by named individuals, does not allege in particular, named American participants in the operation. That, for what it is worth, is accurate. But It is a bridge too far, way too far, to extrapolate that upon this particular indictment, the rest of the investigation of collusion by Trump and his campaign collapses. The Lawfare blog details why such a conclusion related to this is incompetent::
The fact that this indictment doesn’t allege misconduct on the American side does not necessarily mean that Mueller lacks evidence to support such an allegation—or that he will not develop it in the future. This indictment deals with a limited subject matter: one aspect of the Russian operation—that involving social media influence measures—undertaken by non-governmental actors. It makes a point of not addressing the conduct of U.S. actors. That is neither inculpatory or vindicating. It is, rather, a deferral of the matter to another day. What this indictment does, rather, is establish part of the predicate for a later claim of collusion. That is, the indictment details part of what it was that any Americans might have been colluding with.
The Trump White House itself is getting in on the action with White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley claiming on a weekend appearance on Fox News, that:
“There are two groups that have created chaos more than the Russians and that’s the Democrats and the mainstream media.” Gidly added that they “continued to push this lie on the American people for more than a year.”
Of course, after everything we have seen so far from the propagandists and the willingly deluded, little of this has even an eyebrow lifting effect on those of us who have been observing it from outside the fishbowl.
One person who is not buying the notion that Trump is selling that Russia’s now documented information warfare campaign against Hillary Clinton (and correspondingly in favor of Donald Trump), is John Brennan, CIA director at the time of the election, who posted on Twitter “Claims of a ‘hoax’ in tatters. My take: Implausible that Russian actions did not influence the views and votes of at least some Americans.”
Donald Trump’s initial takeaway from the indictment, at least publicly, is reflected in his comments a few days ago that, “The results of the election were not impacted,” he tweeted. “The Trump campaign did nothing wrong — no collusion!”
I mention this to set the stage for more recent behavior on the part of Trump that strongly suggests that he himself doesn’t believe the “off the hook” narrative. Trump, once again, is trying to seed a discredited line of attack against not only his predecessor, but against key members of his own administration:
General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018
This was in response to National Security Advisor McMaster’s failure to back up Trump’s fact challenged claims that Russian interference had no effect on the election, when McMaster told a group of attendees at a security conference in Munich that the evidence on the Russian campaign of “disinformation, subversion and espionage” targeting the 2016 US elections “is now incontrovertible.”
Trump’s next target – and a frequent one, in his paranoid tirade against his own hand picked Justice Department, is Attorney General Jeff Sessions:
Question: If all of the Russian meddling took place during the Obama Administration, right up to January 20th, why aren’t they the subject of the investigation? Why didn’t Obama do something about the meddling? Why aren’t Dem crimes under investigation? Ask Jeff Sessions!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 21, 2018
At best, that is a deceptive statement. The Obama administration did not ignore what the intelligence agencies were reporting and the interference in the campaign was addressed up to a point, including diplomatically. More than that, Obama closed two Russian diplomatic missions in this country, in response. But President Obama was walking a tight-wire between making too much of a public issue of the matter, so as to invite accusations from critics of trying to assist the Clinton campaign – and being over confrontational with Russia at a time when the administration was trying to elicit cooperation on the push against the Islamic State in Syria and on other global security matters.
Regarding the limitations of how much more the White House could have done to prevent the Russian behavior, short of sanctions, which were imposed and evidence exists that the Trump campaign was attempting to undermine them – Obama notes:
“There have been folks out there who suggest somehow if we went out there and made big announcements and thumped our chests about a bunch of stuff, that somehow it would potentially spook the Russians,” he said. “I think it doesn’t read the thought process in Russia very well.”
Further contradiction of Trump’s reckless Tweeting against his own cabinet members is evidenced by the hypocrisy inherent in the accusations. Trump himself, has never issued a directly critical statement regarding Putin or his regime and has actually refused to implement the sanctions.