Lazy Saturday Reads: “Bob Mueller Isn’t Playing Around”Posted: February 17, 2018
There is so much news today that it’s difficult to believe it’s Saturday–much less that it’s a three-day weekend. But that’s the way we live now, moving from crisis to crisis. At least we got some good news yesterday–at least for those of us who still support American democracy.
The new indictments from Special Counsel Bob Mueller prove once and for all to Trump and his Republican supporters that Russia actively intervened in the 2016 election in order to get Trump elected.
At the same time, we must stay focused on the nightmare of mass shootings and the refusal of Republicans to face up to their complicity in the mounting number of deaths caused by their support for the NRA.
And in spite of all the breaking news, we can’t forget the ongoing security clearance scandal in the White House.
I can’t even begin to link to all the important articles today, so I’ll just post a few on the Russia story and then you can join me in adding more on other topics in the comment thread.
None of the defendants indicted Friday for their alleged influence operation against the U.S. political system is likely to ever see the inside of an American courtroom. None is in custody. None is likely to surrender to U.S. authorities. And Vladimir Putin will probably not race to extradite them.
Nevertheless, the grand jury’s charges against the 13 Russians and three organizations mark a significant moment in the investigation of L’Affaire Russe. President Trump has spent the year since his victory casting doubt on the very premise that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Yet here is the Justice Department on the record declaring that the Russia investigation isn’t, in fact, a witch hunt. It isn’t a hoax. It isn’t just a “phony Democrat excuse for losing the election,” as the president has tweeted. There really was, the Justice Department is saying, a Russian influence operation to interfere in the U.S. political system during the 2016 presidential election, and it really was at the expense of Hillary Clinton and in favor of Donald Trump.
The U.S. intelligence community, of course, already knew this. It has already shouted it from the rooftops about as loudly as the intelligence community announces its conclusions. The intelligence community, after all, assessed in January 2017 that it had “high confidence” that “President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016” targeting the U.S. presidential election. Before that, it had warned in October 2016 that the Russian government was behind the hacking and distribution of emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. None of these public conclusions stopped Trump from publicly casting doubt on Russian interference.
But the indictments on Friday reflect a different level of certainty, confidence and evidence. Here the special counsel is stating not merely that he has “high confidence” that the interference happened. He is stating that he can prove the existence of the Russian operation in court beyond a reasonable doubt, using only admissible evidence, and that the operation violated U.S. federal criminal law. And he is laying out an astonishingly specific set of forensic conclusions that reflect an impressive intelligence operation against the very operation on which the indictment reports. Even if the special counsel never gets the chance to prove his allegations in court by bringing any of the indictees before a federal judge, the formal statement that he is prepared and able to do so represents a remarkable rebuke of the president’s claims.
Much more at Lawfare.
Des Moines Register: Russians claimed fraud in Iowa caucuses, Mueller indictment alleges.
Russian operatives trying to sow discord and distrust during the 2016 presidential campaign bought social media advertisements alleging fraud in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.
That’s one of the allegations in a blockbuster indictment made public today by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who’s investigating Russian meddling in the election and possible collusion with President Donald Trump’s campaign.
The indictment alleges that an organized group of Russian operatives began promoting a range of allegations of voter fraud by the Democratic Party in the summer of 2016 as the general election race between Trump and Hillary Clinton was heating up.
Among those was an allegation about the caucuses, the first presidential contest of the 2016 nominating process, which Clinton won by a tiny margin over Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders.
“On or about August 4, 2016,” the indictment says, “Defendants and their co-conspirators began purchasing advertisements that promoted a post on the ORGANIZATION-controlled Facebook account ‘Stop A.I.’ The post alleged that ‘Hillary Clinton has already committed voter fraud during the Democrat Iowa Caucus.’”
I guess that was part of Russia’s support for Bernie Sanders. I think Bernie need to acknowledge this publicly, but I think that’s unlikely.
Molly McKew at Wired: Did Russia Affect the 2016 Election? It’s Now Undeniable.
FOR SOME TIME, there has been a conflation of issues—the hacking and leaking of illegally obtained information versus propaganda and disinformation; cyber-security issues and the hacking of elections systems versus information operations and information warfare; paid advertising versus coercive messaging or psychological operations—when discussing “Russian meddling” in the 2016 US elections. The refrain has become: “There is no evidence that Russian efforts changed any votes.”
But the bombshell 37-page indictment issued Friday by Robert Mueller against Russia’s Internet Research Agency and its leadership and affiliates provides considerable detail on the Russian information warfare targeting the American public during the elections. And this information makes it increasingly difficult to say that the Kremlin’s effort to impact the American mind did not succeed.
The indictment pulls the curtain back on four big questions that have swirled around the Russian influence operation, which, it turns out, began in 2014: What was the scope of the Russian effort? What kind of content did it rely on? Who or what was it targeting, and what did it aim to achieve? And finally, what impact did it have?
Most of the discussion of this to date has focused on ideas of political advertising and the reach of a handful of ads—and this discussion has been completely missed the point.
Read the details at Wired.
Dahlia Lithwick at Slate: It’s Going to Be Much, Much Harder for Trump to Fire Rod Rosenstein Now.
On Friday, the Department of Justice detonated a legal bombshell, announcing the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies accused of interfering in the 2016 presidential election. It was just as fascinating to watch who was doing the detonating. Standing at the podium was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Donald Trump’s much-reviled “Democrat from Baltimore,” who is widely believed to be just barely hanging on to his day job as special counsel Robert Mueller’s minder and whose deputy has just lurched off the national stage for a gig at Walmart.
This was a fairly impressive piece of political maneuvering. On the one hand, it makes any attempt by Trump to remove Rosenstein an even more explicit obstruction of justice. Rosenstein has, after all, just publicly linked himself to indictments of Russians (foreigners!) who tried to throw the election to Trump. He’s also linked himself even more tightly with Mueller and the special counsel’s investigation, which turned up the evidence presented in Friday’s indictment. Rosenstein now indisputably stands for the proposition that Russia interfered in the election and that anyone who denies this is lying. Earlier this week, incidentally, CNN reported that “Trump still isn’t buying that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.”
Perhaps most importantly, Rosenstein—merely by standing at that podium—presented a unified front, backing up the proposition that the DOJ as a whole (with the possible exception of attorney general Jeff Sessions) takes Russian interference seriously. And in stating up front that nothing in this indictment alleges that “any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” he cleared the Trump campaign of knowing collusion. For now.
Obviously, things can change, but for today Rosenstein has allowed the president himself and Sean Hannity types to scream “no collusion” even when the door hasn’t been shut on that possibility. Effective Friday afternoon, Rosenstein looks to be on the side of protecting us from Russian meddling. He’s also given some cover to the president, a fact that might protect him from Trump’s morning rage tweets, at least for a week or two. And hovering silently over Friday’s telenovela was “Bobby Three Sticks” Mueller. He says nothing. Nothing is leaked. That silence is powerful, as theater goes.
Go over to Slate to read why Rosenstein actually is still in danger.
Noah Bookbinder and Norman Eisen at Politico: Bob Mueller Is Not Playing Around.
Federal investigators and prosecutors, and a grand jury, have now found probable cause to believe that a complex web of Russian organizations and agents executed a years-long scheme to undermine our elections—first to sow chaos, conflict and doubt into our electoral system and then specifically to support Donald Trump and oppose Hillary Clinton. These are not vague allegations; over 37 pages, the indictment lays out in careful detail a step-by-step scheme involving identity theft, fake accounts, carefully orchestrated trips and outreach, a concerted social media strategy and even real live rallies across the United States secretly planned from Russia. That is not to say that the president and his supporters will necessarily accept the allegations in the indictment, but this serious and thorough document does not leave them much of a leg to stand on if they continue to deny meaningful Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Beyond providing detailed support for Russian interference and starting the process of holding accountable those who perpetrated this exceedingly serious crime, special counsel Robert Mueller is, with this indictment, doing his part to prevent it from happening again.
The scheme he has uncovered threatened the very fabric of our democracy—and intelligence officials warned this week that Russia will do it again. If Russia repeatedly gets away with this kind of interference in U.S. elections, it will erode public confidence in our electoral system. By publicly spelling out the tactics used and acting swiftly and decisively to bring consequences, Mueller is making it easier for state and federal authorities to spot this conduct in the future and is providing a strong deterrent against Russian agents engaging in this kind of treachery.
Have great weekend, Sky Dancers! There’s hope for our democracy yet. See you in the comment thread.