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Trump comes up short in response to new Mueller indictment

As recently as November, Donald Trump made the case that Russia didn't "meddle" in the election. Now, he's grudgingly acknowledging reality - in a clumsy way.
Image: President Trump attends Republican policy luncheon at the US Capitol
epa06286986 US President Donald J. Trump (R) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L) walk in the Ohio Clock Corridor, through Russian flags with...

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team announced the indictment today of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities who allegedly interfered in the 2016 presidential election, trying to boost Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. The news further discredits the president's longtime claim that that Russian assistance for his campaign is a "hoax."

And so, Trump, who was reportedly briefed on the indictment this morning by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, thought it'd be a good idea to tweet about the news with a slightly different posture.

"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!"

OK, let's take those one at a time.

1. "Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President." That's a little dubious -- there were plenty of headlines before 2015 about Trump's possible candidacy -- but I'm not sure why Trump thinks that's important. What today's indictment documents are the efforts Russian operatives took on his behalf in 2016. The fact that the network's operations were in place beforehand is interesting, but not exculpatory.

For that matter, the fact that the president is now referencing Russia's "campaign" is a rather dramatic departure. For the better part of two years, Trump has questioned whether the Russia meddling happened at all -- and the more U.S. intelligence agencies said otherwise, the more Trump publicly belittled American intelligence professionals.

Indeed, as recently as November, Trump told reporters he asked Russian President Vladimir Putin -- twice -- and Putin "said he didn't meddle." Trump added, "I just asked him again, and he said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they're saying he did.... Putin said he did not do what they said he did. And, you know, there are those that say, if he did do it, he wouldn't have gotten caught, all right? Which is a very interesting statement."

That posture was ridiculous at the time. Now even Trump is grudgingly acknowledging Russia's "campaign."

2. "The results of the election were not impacted." Trump may want to believe this, but that's not what today's indictment says. Russian operatives worked on an expansive -- and allegedly, illegal -- propaganda campaign. How many American voters were affected by the Russian campaign? That's not a question the Justice Department has even tried to answer. (Trump apparently thinks the answer is zero, but he doesn't know that, and there's reason to believe otherwise.)

3. "The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!" Well, some in the Trump campaign have already been charged with federal crimes, so the idea that there was no wrongdoing among campaign officials is, if we're being charitable, premature.

As for the Trump's obsessive insistence that there was "no collusion," that's not in today's indictment, either. In reality, there's all kinds of evidence of cooperation between Trump World and Russia. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, said just this week, "There is already, in my view, ample evidence in the public domain on the issue of collusion if you're willing to see it."

What's more, Bloomberg Politics reported today, "Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his prosecutors have not concluded their investigation into whether President Donald Trump or any of his associates helped Russia interfere in the 2016 election, according to a person with knowledge of the probe."