President Trump just admitted that Russia helped elect him president. “I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected. It was a crime that didn’t exist,” Trump rage-tweeted, adding that this again shows that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation was a “Witch Hunt Hoax.”
Trump then rushed to clarify matters. “Russia did not help me get elected,” Trump told reporters. “Russia didn’t help me at all.”
But here’s the thing: Russia did help Trump get elected. And Trump cannot make this fact disappear, even though he has spent more than two years trying.
Some will argue that Trump’s quicksilver views shouldn’t be taken seriously at any given moment. But Trump actually has spent much of his presidency suggesting the Russian attack on our political system on his behalf never happened at all (while occasionally admitting it has).
Mueller’s remarks concluding his investigation demolished this big lie with great clarity. But this has gotten lost in some of the media coverage, which has treated the argument over them as a spin war in which both sides are milking the comments for partisan purposes in equivalent fashion.
But that’s not what’s happening. In reality, Trump and Republicans are flatly falsifying what Mueller said, by widely sticking to the propagandistic lie that Mueller confirmed “no obstruction” and “no collusion.” By contrast, Democrats are mostly navigating internal disagreements over how to interpret what Mueller’s comments require of them, which has kept them far more oriented toward what he actually did say. There’s no equivalence here.
An objective, plain reading of Mueller’s comments should punch through this false-equivalency clutter, helping point towards some stark truths for all to see:
- Trump has been lying to the American people for more than two years about the circumstances of his ascension to the presidency, and Mueller has provided a forceful antidote to this lie.
- Trump’s efforts to obstruct justice were not merely about protecting himself from imagined unfair prosecution. Rather, they were about preventing those large truths from coming out.
- Trump and many top aides — with help from Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — are trying to duplicate those circumstances again, or at least are taking active steps that make this rerun more likely.
Let’s be as clear as possible: Mueller’s comments, read objectively, confirm many of the broad contours of this story.
What Mueller told us
It’s been widely noted that Mueller opened and closed his comments with a forceful denunciation of 2016 Russian interference. Mueller described the sweeping scope and seriousness of the criminality at its core, the ways it undermined our democracy and political system, and its goal of hurting one candidate — Trump’s opponent.
All that was documented in Mueller’s report, but his underscoring of it is the point. Indeed, Mueller closed by saying it “deserves the attention of every American.”
What has not been widely noted is why this matters. Mueller clarified that the gravity of these acts is a key reason he investigated Trump’s efforts to obstruct his investigation. Mueller said this obstruction struck “at the core” of his effort to get to the bottom of the Russian attack.
In other words, Mueller didn’t simply refuse to clear Trump of criminal obstruction (by clarifying that he was constrained from bringing charges by Justice Department policy). He also underscored that this obstruction was a grave act of wrongdoing because it was designed to derail an accounting of a foreign attack on our political system, irrespective of any criminal conspiracy with it.
The Mueller report also extensively documents all the ways Trump and his advisers actively encouraged this sabotage and sought to profit from it. Which means Trump’s claim that he had “nothing to do” with that effort is also a lie.
Trump World’s position: Russian attack never happened
The story here should be that Mueller wrecked the entire foundation of Trump World’s account of 2016 — that one side’s lies have been reduced to smoldering rubble, not that the two sides are locked in partisan combat over what Mueller said.
Whatever extremes you might find on the Democratic side — some surely hyped the “collusion” angle — the primary difference here has been over how seriously to take the Russian interference effort, for purposes of preventing it from happening again.
Mueller has told us all to take it extremely seriously.
Against that backdrop, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale blithely insists Russia “never” helped Trump in 2016. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, laughs off this Russian help as “a couple of Facebook ads.”
This, even though members of Trump’s own intelligence services — such as FBI director Christopher Wray — flatly claim these efforts are a clear and present threat.
Meanwhile, McConnell is blocking bipartisan election-security bills. As Chris Hayes suggests, McConnell “seems to be effectively inviting Russia or any other foreign government to undermine our elections once again.”
Trump did rapidly retract his admission that he benefited from Russian help. But he can’t make this reality — or his corrupt efforts to keep it buried — disappear.