Something for everyone here. If you think Russiagate’s a witch hunt, the word that leaped out at you from the indictments today was “unwitting.” Quote:
If Trump’s associates were “unwitting,” i.e. unaware that they were cooperating with Russians, what’s left of “collusion”? Maybe there’s a charge to be uncorked if Team Trump didn’t know it was talking to Russians but did believe that it was talking to other people who’d obtained the DNC and Podesta emails, like Wikileaks. The hacking is an underlying crime here, irrespective of whether the people responsible were foreign or domestic actors. But typically under U.S. law it’s not a crime to receive information that you’re not legally allowed to access, only to steal it in the first place. That’s why leakers can be imprisoned but the reporters to whom they pass their info can’t. If Team Trump coordinated with people who possessed the hacked emails in order to release them at critical moments during the campaign, is that in itself a crime? I’d guess not.
But if you think there’s something to Russiagate, you might pay attention to the exact words Rod Rosenstein uses at 5:20 of the clip below. He doesn’t say there’s no evidence, period, that Americans (i.e. Team Trump) knowingly participated in Russian campaign chicanery. He says there’s nothing about that in this indictment, which deals specifically with the Russian Internet troll farm. Are more indictments coming that point to collusion with different Russian agents? Stay tuned.
A question: If there’s no way to extradite the Russians to stand trial, why bother indicting them in the first place? I think these explanations are correct.
The Russians will never allow for the extradition of their people listed in this indictment. This is a public statement by Mueller that this isn’t a witch hunt and that there was Russian interference.
— Bradley P. Moss (@BradMossEsq) February 16, 2018
Between Papadopolous and latest indictments, plus Trump Tower meeting and other interactions, there's little doubt that Russians actively tried to coordinate with Trump campaign and pass along dirt on HRC. Question still is whether Trump officials knowingly sought to collude
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) February 16, 2018
Most of the media chatter about Mueller’s probe lately has focused on the possible obstruction charges against Trump and his inner circle for firing Comey, etc. The comparative silence around the collusion prong of the investigation suggested that maybe there wasn’t much there after all. The indictments may be Mueller’s way of showing the public that the Russians did interfere, albeit with motives more complicated than just trying to help Trump. The next time someone calls Russiagate a nothingburger, opponents can point to the Manafort, Flynn, and Russian indictments and say “some nothingburger.”
Another interesting point from former prosecutor Renato Mariotti. The Russians were charged with fraud, identity theft, and conspiracy (to hide foreign interference in an election from the U.S. government). Trump’s associates may not have known that they were dealing with Russians specifically but did they know that they were dealing with people who’d committed crimes?
8/ Because of the particular crimes Mueller chose to charge, an American would have had to know about the efforts by the Russian to hide their activities–not just the influence operation itself–to be criminally liable. Did any Americans help the Russians hide their operation?
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) February 16, 2018
In fact, Mueller announced a separate indictment for identity fraud just this afternoon of someone named Richard Pinedo, who ran a website buying and selling bank account numbers for people who wanted to evade security measures on e-payment systems. He has no connection to Trump or his associates (that we know of) but he’s cooperating in the investigation. Hmmm.
Update: They’re jumping the gun here but you can’t fault them for claiming a little victory in the “unwitting” part that I noted above.
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) February 16, 2018
There are, by one count, five different prongs of the Russiagate investigation. Today’s indictments appear to say that there was no evidence of collusion between the Russians and Trump’s associates in one of those prongs. Could be that there’ll be no evidence of collusions in the others either — that’s how I’d wager — but Mueller didn’t clear Team Trump entirely today.
In fact, depending upon how clever you think Mueller is, I wonder if he led with these indictments precisely *because* he knew the White House would seize on the “unwitting” passage in the indictment. By trumpeting Mueller’s conclusions, Trump is helping to legitimizing the investigation. The more legitimacy it has, the harder it’ll be for POTUS to pull the plug on it later if Mueller announces an indictment that’s less politically pleasing.
Update: There’s this too:
Trump had disputed that there was Russian interference, saying the whole story was a wild partisan hoax. Now, with Russians charged with interfering in the election, he says: 1) The interfering started before he arrived; 2) Didn't affect outcome; 3) Still a wild partisan hoax?
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) February 16, 2018
POTUS has been famously skeptical from the start that Russia was behind the DNC and Podesta hackings. Now Mueller drops an indictment on more than a dozen Russians for other activities that interfered in the campaign and he’s pointing to it as proof that there was no collusion. Does this mean he at least accepts that Russia did mess around in the campaign in 2016?