Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein on Friday announced the indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officials on charges stemming from the hacking of Democrats during the 2016 election.
And with that, yet another President Trump conspiracy theory is thoroughly repudiated by the Russia investigation.
Trump has regularly cast doubt upon the idea that the Democratic National Committee was hacked by the Russians — and that it was hacked at all. At one point he even reportedly dispatched a conspiracy theorist to meet with then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo. (Pompeo is now secretary of state.)
“This is all information that has been out there for many years. Much of it is false and/or entirely inaccurate,” Trump said in a statement after the DNC hack was revealed in the summer of 2016. “We believe it was the DNC that did the 'hacking' as a way to distract from the many issues facing their deeply flawed candidate and failed party leader. Too bad the DNC doesn't hack Hillary Clinton's 33,000 missing emails.”
At his first presidential debate with Clinton in September 2016, Trump added a number of other potential perpetrators, despite clear indications from the intelligence community that it was Russia. He even said it could have been a severely overweight American.
“I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t — maybe it was,” Trump said. “I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, okay? You don’t know who broke into DNC.”
He said something similar in the second debate, just two days after the intelligence community issued a joint statement saying it was “confident” Russia was responsible. He expanded his doubts to suggest there wasn't any hacking.
“I notice, anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians are — she doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking,” Trump said of Clinton. “Maybe there is no hacking. But they always blame Russia. And the reason they blame Russia is because they think they’re trying to tarnish me with Russia.”
Even after his win and after the CIA concluded Russia aimed to help Trump in the election, Trump again cast doubt, putting “hackers” in quotation marks.
Perhaps one of the most telling moments, though, was in November when it was reported by the Intercept that Pompeo had met with a former intelligence officer named William Binney who had suggested the DNC hack might have in fact been an inside job — a leak from within the committee. Binney said the meeting was set up at Trump's request. By this time, the intelligence community had issued a lengthy report on Russia's interference in the election. This skepticism spun off at one point into the Seth Rich conspiracy theory, which was pushed with gusto for a while by Trump's cable-news ally, Sean Hannity.
Now the Justice Department has said, clearly and unequivocally, not just that Russia was behind the hacking, but that specific, named Russians were. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but these charges were brought after months of investigation and are detailed. They also confirm basically every consensus conclusion of the intelligence community.
Trump is fond of tossing out conspiracy theories, even if just to add a sliver of doubt. His supporters have embraced his conspiracy theories, especially when it comes to Mueller's investigation. In this case, it's clear he felt the idea that Russia was hacking and interfering with the election was aimed at undermining him.
Mueller's investigation can't hit back in the press, but it can do so with official actions. That's what happened Friday.
Update: And yet the White House still doesn't seem willing to totally concede the point. In a statement, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters refers to “the alleged hacking.”
“Today’s charges include no allegations of knowing involvement by anyone on the campaign and no allegations that the alleged hacking affected the election result,” Walters said. “This is consistent with what we have been saying all along.”