It was a few days after the FBI executed a court-approved search warrant at Mar-a-Lago when Donald Trump started complaining anew about the investigation into the Russia scandal, reiterating his familiar belief that the controversy “was a hoax.” The former president echoed the line again yesterday, by way of his Twitter-like platform:
“The Radical Left Dems fraudulently created the now fully debunked Russia, Russia, Russia Hoax, they got caught and failed, but tried to get me with 'obstructing' their Fake investigation of their fraudulent, made up story.”
Some of his Republican allies have read from a similar script. Former White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney — now a paid analyst on CBS News — yesterday also referred to the scandal as a “hoax.” Around the same time, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson appeared on Fox News and insisted that former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation “never should’ve happened.”
The comments came on the heels of a curious New York Times op-ed from National Review’s Rich Lowry, who dismissed the investigation as “a national fiasco,” and who lamented the lack of regret among those who took seriously “the unnecessary, yearslong psychodrama.”
To be sure, on the surface, this isn’t altogether new. Republicans were eager to dismiss, discredit and disregard the Russia scandal since its origins, largely out of partisan necessity: The truth was a disaster for Trump and his political operation, so their allies set out to assure Americans that we need not trust our lying eyes.
But the matter has taken on new urgency in recent weeks, as the former president faces an intensifying scandal over classified materials he brought to his glorified country club and didn’t want to give back. The implicit pitch from Trump and his allies is far from subtle: Sure, federal law enforcement is investigating a series of possible felonies, and sure, it looks like the former president is in real legal jeopardy. But the Justice Department took the Russia scandal seriously, too.
So, you know, maybe this is all a bunch of hooey.
It’s quite possible that for those living in a conservative bubble — folks, for example, who were led to believe the Mueller report "exonerated" Trump, reality be damned — such a public-relations strategy will prove wildly effective. I have no doubt that a painfully large chunk of the population will reflexively dismiss the Mar-a-Lago scandal, precisely because they’ve been conditioned to believe that all news that casts the Republican in an unflattering light is “fake.”
But for everyone else, now seems like a good time to review five core truths about the Russia scandal.
Russia attacked the American elections in 2016
Every U.S. intelligence agency and lawmakers from both parties have long agreed that the Kremlin launched an expansive and expensive covert military intelligence operation that targeted the U.S. political system in 2016. This basic fact is no longer contested — except by Trump, who publicly declared that he found Vladimir Putin more reliable than his own administration’s officials — and its importance is too often overlooked.
Russia’s goal was to put Trump in power
The Kremlin’s operation was not politically neutral: Moscow attacked our elections in the hopes of helping dictate the outcome. According to the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies, the Mueller investigation, and the multi-step investigation from the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee, Russia saw Trump as a prospective ally and believed it would be in its interests if the Republican were in the White House.
Russia and Team Trump were political allies
As regular readers know, investigations from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team and the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee documented the extent to which Trump and his team welcomed, received, and benefited from Russian campaign assistance. (They also obstructed the investigation into this assistance — by some measures, 10 times.)
The evidence also showed there was coordination and high-level connections between Trump’s political operation and those responsible for the attack on our elections. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report at one point literally described a “direct tie between senior Trump Campaign officials and the Russian intelligence services.”
Team Trump lied about its communications with Russia
No, really, Team Trump lied about its communications with Russia. A lot. Out loud and on record. Over and over again, Trump and his spokespersons insisted there were absolutely no interactions between the Republican, his political operation, and their Russian benefactors. We now know definitively that they were lying — though they still haven’t been forthcoming about why.
The Russia scandal led to a series of felony convictions and prison sentences
For an alleged “hoax,” the Russia scandal led to an amazing number of federal prosecutions. In fact, the investigation — the one Lowry derided as “a national fiasco” — led to the convictions of, among others, Trump’s White House national security advisor, campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, foreign policy advisor, personal lawyer, and to the indictment of 13 Russian nationals who interfered in our elections as part of the larger plot.
I realize, of course, that there are all kinds of contentious details and personalities related to the controversy, which are still being debated as part of the broader conversation about the story.
But these five aforementioned truths are largely uncontested, and have been bolstered, not only by U.S. intelligence agencies, but also by the Mueller probe and the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee’s findings. Russia attacked our elections to help Trump. The Republican’s political operation welcomed, received, benefited from, and lied about Russian campaign assistance. Many key players from Trump’s inner circle were charged, prosecuted, and convicted.
These aren’t opinions. They’re conclusions drawn from multiple, bipartisan investigations, conducted across several years.
The only “hoax” here is the one being perpetrated by those pretending the Russia scandal wasn’t real.