Late yesterday afternoon the Justice Department announced that it had indicted thirteen Russians and three Russian companies for participation in a scheme to interfere in the United States political system. From the Justice Department website:
“The Department of Justice announced that a grand jury in the District of Columbia today returned an indictment presented by the Special Counsel’s Office. The indictment charges thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian companies for committing federal crimes while seeking to interfere in the United States political system, including the 2016 Presidential election. The defendants allegedly conducted what they called “information warfare against the United States,” with the stated goal of “spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”
The full 37-page indictment is here, giving citizens a rare example to read everything reporters know and to thereby be able to gauge exactly how accurate and fair their reporting is, if the citizens are so inclined. SPOILER ALERT: The spin efforts thus far have been staggering.
The press release also tells us in part:
According to the allegations in the indictment, twelve of the individual defendants worked at various times for Internet Research Agency LLC, a Russian company based in St. Petersburg, Russia. …Internet Research Agency allegedly operated through Russian shell companies. It employed hundreds of persons for its online operations, ranging from creators of fictitious personas to technical and administrative support, with an annual budget of millions of dollars. Internet Research Agency was a structured organization headed by a management group and arranged in departments, including graphics, search-engine optimization, information technology, and finance departments. In 2014, the agency established a “translator project” to focus on the U.S. population. In July 2016, more than 80 employees were assigned to the translator project….To hide the Russian origin of their activities, the defendants allegedly purchased space on computer servers located within the United States in order to set up a virtual private network. The defendants allegedly used that infrastructure to establish hundreds of accounts on social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, making it appear that the accounts were controlled by persons within the United States. They used stolen or fictitious American identities, fraudulent bank accounts, and false identification documents. The defendants posed as politically and socially active Americans, advocating for and against particular political candidates. They established social media pages and groups to communicate with unwitting Americans. They also purchased political advertisements on social media.
The Russians also recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities, promote political campaigns, and stage political rallies. The defendants and their co-conspirators pretended to be grassroots activists. According to the indictment, the Americans did not know that they were communicating with Russians.
Thirteen paragraphs into the release is this statement: “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”
Talk about burying the lede!
1 The media’s disappointment, as well as that of the Democrats interviewed and the anti-Trump echo chamber on social media, that the announcement did not connect the Trump campaign to the Russian conspiracy is palpable. Not at election night levels, because there still is hope beating in their hearts that Mueller’s investigation will somehow be able to overturn the will of the voters, but palpable nonetheless. Yes, a substantial portion of the American news media, the public and the Democratic party is bitterly disappointed that the investigation did not announce that an American President has been proven to have engaged in a conspiracy to undermine democracy.
Think about that.
2. It is too early to conclude that Mueller and his team of compromised and conflicted investigators will not find evidence of wrongdoing by the Trump campaign or the President himself. Thus the President’s gloating tweet…
“Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”
…is premature at best. Moreover, the President does not know if the results of the election were “impacted,” and it is unlikely that we will ever know. The current set of indictments includes no finding that the results of the election were affected.
3. It is not to early to say that if, as this announcement at least suggests may be the case, the Mueller investigation does not find any incriminating link between the Trump campaign and the Russian conspiracy, it will be one of the best tests we have ever had regarding the integrity of journalists, pundits and Democratic party leaders and officials.
4. Having read over the indictment bleary-eyed just once, I am not prepared to make any definitive analysis and may never be. However, certain items stand out.
5. The fact that the effort began in 2014 undermines the Democratic narrative that the intention was to elect Donald Trump, since literally nobody thought that Trump would be running, much less nominated, in 2014. It also shows that this attempt to undermine our elections began under the watch of the Obama Administration, and it is accountable.
Watch how this fact is eagerly brushed aside.
6. In Section 34 we learn that
Defendants and their co-conspirators also created thematic group pages on social media sites, particularly on the social media platforms Facebook and Instagram. ORGANIZATION controlled pages addressed a range of issues, including: immigration (with group names including “Secured Borders”); the Black Lives Matter movement (with group names including “Blacktivist”); religion (with group names including “United Muslims of America” and “Army of Jesus”); and certain geographic regions within the United States (with group names including “South United” and “Heart of Texas”). By 2016, the size of many ORGANIZATION-controlled groups had grown to hundreds of thousands of online..
I’ll be interested to see how many news reports mention this section, which bolsters the belief that Russia’s purpose was to sow discord, and not just to assist candidate Trump.
7. In Section 43, there is this:
By 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used their fictitious online personas to interfere with the 2016 U.S . presidential election. They engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.
In other words, again, the purpose was to disrupt both parties and the election by supporting the insurgent candidates, not necessarily to elect them.
8. Section 35 reveals that the Russians spent “thousands of dollars of US dollars a month” on social media ads. Yes, thousands. The suggestion that this level of social media advertising had any significant impact on the election is laughable.
9. From Section 53, as we begin learning about various rallies for Trump or against Clinton organized during the campaign (though we never learn how many people attended), and that..
Defendants and their co-conspirators recruited a real U.S. person to hold a sign depicting Clinton and a quote attributed to her stating “I think Sharia Law will be a powerful new direction of freedom.”
I never heard about that sign, and if I had, I would have assumed that it was a fake quote. I doubt that anyone who might have been inclined to vote for Clinton would be swayed by such clumsy false flag tactics; indeed most of the measures described in the indictment strike me the same way. What are described are a lot of minor rallies and things like paying for a megaphone and fliers for a “March for Trump” rally (section 62). If paying for a megaphone is deemed worthy of mention in such an indictment, it’s fair to assume that we are talking about the Russians emulating Richard Nixon’s “dirty tricks,” and maybe not even that.
10. Let’s see how many news reports highlight this: Section 57 says that the Russian backed groups held and promoted multiple rallies both supporting and opposing the results of the 2016 election including a “Trump is not my president” rally.
Now onto the spin…
- On CNN, a reporter summarizing the indictments said that “the Russian efforts succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.” This suggests, and was intended to suggest, that the interference elected Donald Trump. That’s a lie, flat-out—complete misrepresentation. The indictment doesn’t say that, or suggest that.
- Here’s Mother Jones’ desperate headline: “Mueller’s Latest Indictment Shows Trump Has Helped Putin Cover Up a Crime.” Disgraceful, but this pretty typical of Mother Jones and its chief reporter David Corn.
- Chris Cillizza, who has been far, far more irresponsible and unreliable since joining CNN from the Washington Post, issued a story with this headline: “Donald Trump’s absolutely disastrous week.” Funny, I would call any week that ends with a huge announcement from the Special Prosecutor that there has been no finding that his campaign “colluded” or that the Russian efforts to interfere with the election had a measurable impact on the results a great week for the President no matter what else occurred…and I’d be right. Silly Cillizza—Cilly Cillizza?—also includes this, which should ring familiar to anyone who has read CNN, MSNBC, the Times, the Post and other perpetually hopeful mainstream news media arms of “the resistance” over the past year:
“Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is finalizing a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, indicating he’s poised to cooperate in the investigation, according to sources familiar with the case. Gates has already spoken to Mueller’s team about his case and has been in plea negotiations for about a month….Gates’ cooperation could be another building block for Mueller in a possible case against President Donald Trump or key members of his team…”
Or, as is far more likely, the indictment has nothing to do with the “collusion” case at all, just like every other non-Russian indicted by Mueller. “Another building block”? There hasn’t been a single “block” discovered yet!
- Here is the Post’s Greg Sargent lying in his article, “Three big takeaways from Mueller’s stunning new indictments”:
1. We now know not just that Russians did sabotage our election, but also that crimes may have been committed in the process — and what those crimes were.
Sabotage means “to deliberately destroy, damage, or obstruct.” The indictment and the press release do not say or even suggest that the election was even effected, much less destroyed, damaged, or obstructed. This so wrong that it requires a correction, and any Post editor that let to get though to publication should be sacked.
Now here is his second “big takeaway”:
2. We still don’t know whether Trump campaign officials or any other Americans conspired with this alleged effort to influence the election.
There’s some confusion around this point. The indictment says that some of the defendants “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign.” At a presser just now, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein reiterated this, claiming that “there’s no allegation in this indictment” that any American was aware of the alleged crimes. (Emphasis mine.)
Oh, I see! Except Rosenstein didn’t say “there’s no allegation in THIS indictment” [wink wink]. The anti-Trump media now openly interprets a statement that there is no evidence incriminating Trump to mean that there might be.
And “takeaway” #3:
3. This confirms just how massive an abdication Trump’s continued claims of a “hoax” really are. Trump has not simply dismissed the idea of Trump campaign conspiracy with Russian sabotage of our democracy. On many occasions, he has refused to acknowledge that Russian meddling happened at all.
This failure on Trump’s part isn’t merely retrospective. It is having serious consequences right now. In a big expose, The Post recently reported that Trump’s refusal to acknowledge Russian meddling is directly linked to his unwillingness to diminish the greatness of his victory. As a result, the Post story detailed, Trump has utterly failed to organize a serious national response to the threat of Russian sabotage of our next elections, even though intelligence officials continue to warn that it may already be in the works.
This new indictment, by illustrating the seriousness and elaborate nature of the alleged scheme to undermine our last election, underscores what a huge abdication this really is.
You have to love this. The indictment lays out an elaborate scheme by the Russians that took place entirely under the Obama Administration and that exemplifies its thorough incompetence, and the “big takeaway” is that Trump has “abdicated” his responsibilities. And again, Sargent alludes to “sabotage.” The news media is preparing to try to “sabotage” the 2018 elections with far more sweeping efforts, visibility and resources than anything the Russians have mustered or could, and stories like this one are an example. The indictments, contrary to what publications like the Post have been assuring us, did not implicate Trump or his campaign in any way, yet the Post’s three big “takeaways” impugn Trump! The Post has multiple articles taking this approach.
- Politico: “Worries about Trump’s legitimacy resurface with Russia indictment”
Again, shameless. Whose worries? I read the indictment, and obviously crimes were committed, but anyone who thinks this motley assortment of social media trolling and fringe muck–raking and rumor-mongering changed the results of the election is an idiot or Hillary Clinton. This is why the press statement said “There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”
11. Here is my “big takeaway” so far. The Russians’ goal was to undermine faith in the American democratic institutions. Whatever they may have accomplished, and it doesn’t look like much, it pales in comparison to how the news media has undermined those institutions in its biased coverage of the 2016 campaign, its 95% negative Trump coverage since his election, and the kind of tortured spin we are already seeing as the journalists get that sinking feeling that Mueller may not have anything impeachment-worthy to announce, now or ever.