President Trump has now offered a few different reactions to the indictments of 13 Russian nationals on Friday. And all of them rely upon (a) a willful misreading of the facts, and/or (b) transposing two things that sound the same but aren't.
Even for a president with a passing regard for facts, his arguments of late seem pretty cynical. Let's cycle through five he has offered:
1) Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein suggested Trump campaign officials didn't collude
The White House and the Republican National Committee have also repeated this false argument, which suggests it's a talking point. They've used fuzzy language, but they've all suggested that Rosenstein's announcement at least somewhat takes collusion off the table. The White House put it this way: "...President Donald J. Trump has been fully briefed on this matter and is glad to see the Special Counsel’s investigation further indicates — that there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia.”
Except that's not what the indictments indicate. Rosenstein said, “There is no allegation in this indictment that any American had any knowledge,” but he was speaking specifically about “this indictment.” And there are all kinds of reasons to believe that, even if Trump officials were in trouble, the indictment Friday wouldn't allude to it in any way, shape or form.
2) Rosenstein suggested that Russia didn't change the 2016 election results.
This was also a clear White House/Republican National Committee talking point Friday, but it makes less sense than the above. Rosenstein said clearly that there was “no allegation in the indictment of any effect on the outcome of the election.”
But as Philip Bump notes, we would never expect there to be such an allegation — first, because it's immaterial to the indictments, and second, because it's totally unknowable. Even the intelligence community has said its analysis of Russian interference wouldn't be able or attempt to answer this question. And there is a huge difference between declining to make an allegation and disproving something.
The Trump administration has been called out on this particular talking point repeatedly; it should (and probably does) know better.
3) Russia started the effort in 2014 — before Trump began his campaign.
The third thing Trump has seized upon is the timeline — specifically, that the Russian troll farm described in the indictment began in 2014. This was before he even started his presidential campaign, and Trump seems to think this suggests that the effort wasn't about him.
In response, plenty of people have pointed out that Trump trademarked “Make America Great Again” in 2012 or otherwise dipped his toe into the 2016 race earlier than his official July 2015 launch date. But that completely misses the point. The point is not that Russia wanted to help Trump so it created this effort; the point is that it decided he was the best vessel for its existing effort to interfere in the election and destabilize the United States. Whether the chicken or egg came first doesn't change anything, really.
4) Democrats used to say you couldn't rig elections.
Trump on Tuesday morning pointed to an October 2016 quote from President Barack Obama: “There is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even rig America's elections.” The argument: Democrats said the vote couldn't be rigged, but now (when I win) they say it was!
Except nobody is saying the 2016 vote was “rigged.” Trump often transposes interfering in an election with rigging it. The former involves trying to influence the election, while the latter involves a fraudulent effort to change vote totals — either through hacking or illegal votes. When Obama said those words, he was responding specifically to Trump's very specific argument that voter fraud might cost him the election.
Russia is very much accused of interfering, but even the intelligence community has said “the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying.” In other words: This has never really been about rigging.
5) The FBI was so busy with collusion that it did not act before the Parkland shooting.
The above tweet is from Saturday. There is no question that the FBI's handling of red flags about alleged Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz is justifiably under the microscope. But the attempt to suggest it was an issue of manpower and emphasis is really a stretch.
The first problem with Trump's tweet is that issues such as counterintelligence are handled by a different part of the bureau. The second is that the FBI hasn't been in charge of the Russia investigation since the special counsel was appointed in May. The most serious red flags about Cruz came in recent weeks, long after the FBI was no longer on the case.