For the better part of two years, Donald Trump balked at the very idea of Russian operatives trying to help elect him. The Republican president insisted the whole argument was a “hoax,” facts and intelligence community assessments, be damned.
I know Trump isn’t much of a reader, but someone really ought to show him today’s indictment from the Justice Department.
Thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian entities have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of interfering in the 2016 presidential election – including supporting the Trump campaign and “disparaging” Hillary Clinton, special counsel Robert Mueller announced Friday.
The indictments – part of Mueller’s ongoing investigation – are the first criminal indictments tied directly to Russian interference in the 2016 election. […]
According to the indictment, some defendants traveled to U.S. under false pretenses to collect intelligence and to “reach significant number of Americans for purposes of interfering with the U.S. political system, including the presidential election of 2016.”
The full, detailed, 37-page indictment is online here (pdf) and it’s worth your time. It paints a rather extraordinary picture of an extensive Russian interference operation.
And while I’m not an attorney, and I’ll defer to those with more authority to delve into the indictment in more detail, several things have jumped out at me:
* Some of the relevant political observations are surprisingly direct. Note on page 6, for example, the indictment says the Russian suspects “posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early-to-mid 2016, Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton.”
* Later in the document, one of the operatives involved with a Facebook group was criticized for not having enough anti-Clinton content and was told in mid-September that “it is imperative to intensify criticizing Hillary Clinton.”
* Trump’s “hoax” talking point is clearly dead. The indictment specifically says the accused Russians “knowingly and intentionally conspired” to interfere with “the U.S. political and electoral process, including the presidential election of 2016.”
* On page 13 there’s a reference to the Russians coordinating with a “Texas-based grassroots organization” to better target swing states.
* Note on page 18 that the Russians specifically targeted minority groups, hoping to discourage them from voting. The same section showed the operatives promoting Green Party nominee Jill Stein’s candidacy. Elsewhere, the indictment references efforts to boost Bernie Sanders, too.
Now, I should also emphasize that this indictment makes multiple references to “unwitting” Americans coordinating with the Russians, including “unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign.” It raises the specter of some people possibly helping foreign operatives without knowing they were doing so.
Also, it’s worth noting that there’s no reason to see this as the end of the Mueller probe. It’s just part of a much broader effort, which is obviously still ongoing.
That said, there’s a whole lot of fresh evidence that operatives of a foreign adversary took steps to undermine and change the outcome of an American election cycle.
It’s going to be one heckuva Rachel Maddow Show in about six hours.