Early Friday afternoon, the Justice Department announced that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III had indicted 12 Russian officials in connection with the Kremlin’s effort to manipulate the 2016 presidential election, making even clearer what we already knew: The Russian government had a comprehensive program intended to hurt the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and to help Donald Trump get elected.
The fact this has been treated as anything less than a profound national emergency — and that one of our two parties has argued again and again that it’s no big deal — is something that should appall anyone who has even the slightest concern for U.S. national security.
It is notable that these indictments come a day after Republicans mounted a farcical hearing meant to advance the ludicrous notion that the entire Russia investigation is illegitimate because one FBI agent said disparaging things about President Trump in private text messages during the campaign. But here’s part of what Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein said during his news conference today:
The indictment charges 12 Russian military officers by name for conspiring to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. Eleven of the defendants are charged with conspiring to hack into computers, steal documents and release those documents with the intent to interfere with the election. One of those defendants and a 12th Russian military officer are charged with conspiring to infiltrate computers of organizations involved in administering the elections, including state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and companies that supply software used to administer elections.
The indictment contains numerous intriguing details, including the fact that the Russian hacking of the emails of Clinton associates began on the same day that Trump publicly said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Clinton] emails that are missing.”
We also learn from the indictments that “On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, received a request for stolen documents from a candidate for the U.S. Congress. The Conspirators responded using the Guccifer 2.0 persona and sent the candidate stolen documents related to the candidate’s opponent.” The candidate isn’t identified, but it sure will be interesting to learn who it was.
So the hacking didn’t come, as Trump has suggested multiple times, from China, some other country, or a 400-pound guy sitting on his bed. And throughout, Trump has accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ridiculous denials at face value, as though Putin would never lie to him (“I said, ‘Did you do it?’ And he said, ‘No, I did not. Absolutely not.’ I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said absolutely not”).
Trump will be meeting Putin again on Monday — in private, with no staff allowed except translators. Here’s what he said about the topic of Russia’s involvement in our election at his press conference this morning with British Prime Minister Theresa May:
I will absolutely bring that up. I don’t think you’ll have any “Gee, I did it, I did it, you got me.” There won’t be a Perry Mason here, I don’t think, but you never know what happens, right? But I will absolutely, firmly ask the question.
He’ll “firmly ask the question,” and when Putin says that it never happened, Trump will once again accept and repeat that denial, because that’s what he wants everyone to believe.
So for the benefit of those who continue to claim that the Russia investigation is a great big witch hunt with nothing to show for its efforts, let’s remind ourselves of what it has produced to date:
- Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is currently in jail awaiting trial on multiple charges relating to his relationships with a Russian oligarch close to Putin and the former leader of Ukraine, widely considered a Putin puppet.
- Trump’s deputy campaign chairman, Rick Gates, pled guilty to lying to the FBI and conspiracy to defraud the United States, and is now cooperating with Mueller.
- Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials, and is now cooperating with Mueller.
- A Trump foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with various Kremlin-connected figures and is now cooperating with Mueller.
- Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian associate of Manafort, was indicted on obstruction of justice charges.
- Richard Pinedo pled guilty to identity fraud for selling stolen identities to Russians connected to the Mueller probe.
- Alex Van Der Zwaan, a Dutch banker and son-in-law of a Russian oligarch, pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his work with Manafort and Gates, and was jailed briefly and then deported.
- Thirteen individuals and three companies were indicted for their participation in a Russian scheme to conduct “information warfare” during the 2016 election in order to push voters away from Clinton and toward Trump, as well as undermining trust in the electoral system more generally.
- And now, eleven Russian military officials have been indicted for hacking into the email systems of the Democratic National Committee and various people connected to Hillary Clinton, including her campaign chairman, then disseminating the materials in carefully timed releases meant to maximize the political damage to Clinton. One of those 11, plus another Russian official, have also been indicted for hacking into the systems of state election agencies.
And that’s just so far. If the Mueller probe is moving toward a conclusion, it’s hard to believe there won’t be more indictments to come.
We still don’t have a complete answer to how deep the cooperation between Russia and the Trump campaign went, though we have a great deal of evidence already that can support the charge that collusion did indeed occur. But whatever your perspective on that evidence — the meetings between Trump officials and Russians intended to obtain dirt on Clinton, the dozens of contacts with Russians that, for some strange reason, Trump officials were so keen to lie about in order to conceal — one thing that no one can plausibly say is that this is all just a witch hunt, there’s no there there, and that the investigation should simply be shut down.
Anyone who makes that claim should be acknowledged for what they are: Someone whose desire to keep President Trump from political harm exceeds their concern about the national security of the United States. We know that’s true of the president himself. And it also seems to be true of most of his party.