It is important, but not surprising, that the Justice Department has indicted a dozen Russian intelligence officers for conspiring to steal and leak Democratic Party emails during the 2016 election.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has, even recently, insisted that no Russian state actors participated in an influence campaign to help Donald Trump win the presidency, and Trump claims to believe him, in defiance of the U.S. intelligence community. Now it is in defiance of the Department of Justice, and federal prosecutors stipulating that their case would stand up in court.
But the facts contained in the indictments, which substantiate crimes we all bore witness to, are in many ways less important than their echoes.
For Special Counsel Robert Mueller to present them ahead of a looming Trump-Putin summit is, intentionally or not, a counterintelligence feat in its own right. It complicates Trump’s and Putin’s efforts to use their summit to conspire against democratic governments, or spread more disinformation, and will increase political pressure on Trump to deploy government resources against ongoing Russian active measures.
If and when Russian intelligence leaks more stolen emails, the U.S. media will (hopefully) be wiser to what’s happening than they were two years ago.
More alarmingly, though, it may have exposed a concerted Republican effort to help Russians get away with their crimes.
In announcing the indictments, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein disclosed that he had briefed President Trump on these proceedings earlier this week. “The president is fully aware of the department’s actions today,” he said.
The fact that Rosenstein gave Trump days’ worth of advanced notice gives us (and perhaps Mueller) a retroactive glimpse into Trump’s consciousness. He knew the indictments were coming and nevertheless spent the week reviving his attacks on the investigation, and sundering American alliances to consummate his corrupt relationship with the Russian government. This further substantiates his complicity, at least retroactively, in the attack on the election. The question is whether the advanced word of the indictments leaked to the Hill, and thus implicates his Republican allies in Congress. Consider their behavior over the past few days.
With the indictments looming—indictments of Russians who attacked the United States—they actually accelerated their efforts to undermine the Mueller investigation.
On Thursday, hey convened an all day hearing of the House oversight and judiciary committees to flay Peter Strzok, who, in 2016, as the country’s top spy hunter, helped lead the investigation of the Trump campaign’s role in Russian election interference.
Because Strzok, in his private correspondence at the time, expressed his visceral disgust with Trump—the same visceral disgust leading elected Republicans expressed publicly and privately—those Republicans now argue that the Russia investigation is an offshoot of a conspiracy within the Justice Department to take Trump down, and should be disbanded.
After the hearing, Trump’s surrogate and criminal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said Mueller’s findings should be “dismissed.”
Upon returning from an official visit to Moscow this past weekend, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), said that foreign election interference “is not the greatest threat to our democracy” and claimed “we’ve blown it way out of proportion.”
We can’t know whether Trump tipped any of these Republicans off about the indictments, but it beggars belief to imagine Trump of all people kept this information tightly held. Even if he told no one, he still conscripted unwitting Republicans to redouble their efforts to discredit Mueller, knowing the grand jury would likely return indictments against Russian intelligence officers by week’s end.
During the election, Republican leaders abetted Russia’s efforts to help Trump win. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell went so far as to scuttle the government’s plan to disrupt the attack, so the attack could continue unimpeded, and with minimal public scrutiny of Trump’s involvement. They are now helping Trump insulate Russians from the consequences.
It’s uncontroversial—in fact it’s obvious—that congressional Republicans have been waging a propaganda war against the Justice Department to protect Trump from exposure to Mueller, and Russia has derived collateral benefit from that war in obvious ways. These indictments crack open the door to the possibility that they are helping Trump protect the Russian operatives who subverted the election directly, and of their own accord.