Tuesday February 20, 2018
It’s hard to know where to begin. Last Friday’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies by Special Counsel Robert Mueller was detailed in a 37 page document that provided a great deal of specific evidence claiming that a company based in St. Petersburg, starting in 2014, was using social media to assess American attitudes. Using that assessment, the company inter alia allegedly later ran a clandestine operation seeking to influence opinion in the United States regarding the candidates in the 2016 election in which it favored Donald Trump and denigrated Hillary Clinton. The Russians identified by name are all back in Russia and cannot be extradited to the US, so the indictment is, to a certain extent, political theater as the accused’s defense will never be heard.
In presenting the document, Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General, stressed that there was no evidence to suggest that the alleged Russian activity actually changed the result of the 2016 presidential election or that any actual votes were altered or tampered with. Nor was there any direct link to either the Russian government or its officials or to the Donald Trump campaign developed as a result of the nine-month long investigation. There was also lacking any mention in the indictment of the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton and Podesta e-mails, so it is to be presumed that the activity described in the document was unrelated to the WikiLeaks disclosures.
Those of the “okay, there’s smoke but where’s the fire” school of thought immediately noted the significant elephant in the room, namely that the document did not include any suggestion that there had been collusion between Team Trump and Moscow. As that narrative has become the very raison d’etre driving the Mueller investigation, its omission is noteworthy. Meanwhile, those who see more substance in what was revealed by the evidence provided in the indictment and who, for political reasons, would like to see Trump damaged, will surely be encouraged by their belief that the noose is tightening around the president.