CNN legal analyst: 'Strong probability' Russia handed Trump the presidency

CNN currently has this opinion piece near the top of its homepage. The headline, “Mueller tells a compelling story of Russian intrigue that was designed to elect Trump,” is a bit toned down but the actual piece argues that Mueller’s indictment proves Russia probably handed the election to Hillary.

If the allegations of the indictment prove true, it seems probable that the Russians were successful in their multimillion-dollar effort to influence the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Of course the answer to this complex question will never be definitively known. Polling cannot tell us whether voters might have chosen differently if the Russian influence operation hadn’t happened.

What is known, however, is that the election was close and voter shifts in just a few significant states could have changed the Electoral College vote count in a presidential election in which Hillary Clinton won the popular vote…

Friday’s indictments strongly suggest that the millions of Russian rubles spent to support and give credibility to Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-black activist themes had to have had an impact in such an extremely close presidential election…

The indictment suggests the Russians had their eye on “purple” states including Florida, which went for Trump, giving him 29 electoral votes. Trump won by razor-thin margins in Pennsylvania with 20 electoral votes, Michigan with 16 and Wisconsin with 10. A shift of a mere 38 electoral votes from some combination of states and Hillary is president.

Given what the indictments reveal, there is a strong probability that Russia’s surreptitious and illegal support handed Trump the presidency.

Breaking now at CNN: It was a close election! Yes, we know that. And the nature of a close election is that you can point to almost anything and claim that’s the reason the loser lost. In fact, Hillary has pointed to at least a dozen different reasons, any one of which might have made the difference. Hillary has done this so conspicuously that even CNN made a video titled “People and things Clinton blames for her loss”

Here’s the thing about the Russian influence campaign on social media. They spent maybe a million dollars a month, maybe a little more. A lot of that money was spent trying to create generalized chaos in our system. Toward the end of the campaign, they did try to boost Trump, but the total devoted to that was a fraction of the overall money spent. Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign and associated joint fundraising committees and SuperPACs raised and spent something like $1.4 billion dollars trying to shape the electoral landscape. The Trump campaign and it’s affiliated groups raised and spent another $950 million. That’s a really huge amount of money, a lot of it spent on advertising and outreach, compared to the relatively paltry Russian effort.

I’m certainly not saying the Russians should get a pass for meddling in our election. I’m not saying their effort had no impact. I’m not even saying it’s impossible that it impacted the outcome to some measurable (in a theoretical sense) degree. But I do think the idea that anyone can pinpoint this one thing out of all the factors that were involved and the billions of dollars and the endless hours of media coverage and say definitively, ‘These Facebook ads swung the election!” is pretty silly. There are simply too many other variables involved, including all the other ones Hillary has been pointing out all year.