Sunday, February 18, 2018

Russian Meddling, Mueller's Indictments, and What It Means

By Douglas V. Gibbs
Author, Speaker, Instructor, Radio Host

While I believe the indictments reveal that Russia wanted to influence the election, something they've been up to for the last 100 years, and something Obama tried to do himself regarding Israel's election when he was President, I am not sure the indictment necessarily incriminates or vindicates the Trump administration from involvement in Russian election meddling.  In truth, it doesn't necessarily prove there was Russian state-sponsored meddling in the first place, but it does charge that Russians were individually involved in attempting to influence the 2016 Presidential Election.  Indictments and hearsay testimony does not necessarily make something true.  It takes hard evidence to prove something, and regarding this case, that kind of evidence continues to remain elusive - at least to the public.

The Indictments obtained by special counsel Robert Mueller on Vladimir Putin’s alleged attempts to create discord in the 2016 election still keeps us in stitches with a number of questions that have not been answered.  That said, the indictments say that the Russians involved were pretending to be Americans, so if true, it could be good news for the Republicans and Trump's supporters because that would mean that any Americans contacted by the 13 charged Russians, including Trump campaign associates, did not know they were dealing with Russians, or at least did not know they were dealing with Russians actively operating to disrupt the American Election.

The thirteen defendants indicted are not in custody.  They are Russians who will likely never actually be brought into any American courtroom.  The grand jury’s charges against the 13 Russians and three organizations mark a change in the investigation, because it changes the conversation from whether or not there was Russian meddling to "who" the Russians were colluding with.

Trump has played an interesting card on this.  He has pointed out that the previous administration should have been doing something about this.  It happened under Obama's watch. Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, continued to criticize the Trump administration’s response to Russia’s election meddling, but in light of special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment targeting Russians over the interference he also repeated his dissatisfaction with the Obama administration’s initial response to what the Russians were up to, especially now that Mueller’s indictment says it all began in 2014.

The special counsel is stating interference happened, and Mueller says he can prove the existence of the Russian operation in court beyond a reasonable doubt, using only admissible evidence, and that the operation violated U.S. federal criminal law - note that the allegations in this indictment do not deal with computer or email hacking. The operation described in this indictment did not relate to the hacking of the DNC network, Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with Russians in Trump Tower, nor to the theft or distribution of Podesta’s or the DNC’s emails in the summer and fall of 2016.

The 37-page indictment also makes no allegations regarding specific politicians on either side of the aisle, or the Trump team, either.  The indictment simply deals with an operation that the Russian participants themselves described as “information warfare against the United States of America.” What it does say, however, is that the Russian conspiracy began interfering in the presidential election in May 2014 — more than a year before Trump even entered the race in June 2015 (hence, once again, the reason Democrats are beginning to point fingers at Obama).

The goal of the Russian meddling operation had nothing to do with Trump.  As I wrote before, it didn't even match history, which has seen the Democrats colluding with Russia for dang-near the entire last 100 years.  Russia has always preferred a Democrat in office, because the left-wingers institute weaker foreign policies, and policies that are more favorable for Russia's favorite endeavors of expansion and geo-political meddling.

According to Mueller's indictment, the primary objective of the Russians' conspiracy wasn't to pick Hillary over Trump, or Trump over Hillary, but to "spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general."
The indictment’s first count charges 16 defendants with conspiring to defraud the United States (18 U.S.C. §371), alleging a conspiracy that “had as its object impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of the United States by dishonest means in order to enable the Defendants to interfere with U.S. political and electoral processes, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” In particular, the indictment alleges the defendants interfered with the Federal Election Commission’s administration of the Federal Election Campaign Act (prohibiting foreign nationals from certain kinds of political spending during elections); the Justice Department’s administration of the Foreign Agent Registration Act (requiring agents of foreign principals working within the United States on political matters to register as such); and the State Department’s program for issuing visas to foreign individuals entering the United States.
The indictment’s second count charges the Russian Internet Research Agency and two of its employees with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud (18 U.S.C. §1349). According to the special counsel, these defendants opened U.S. bank and PayPal accounts under false names in order to receive and send money into and out of the United States—both to support the Internet Research Agency’s operations in the U.S. and for self-enrichment. The indictment alleges that in furtherance of this conspiracy, the defendants unlawfully used the Social Security numbers, home addresses and birth dates of real U.S. persons, without their knowledge or consent, to fraudulently open at least four bank accounts and six PayPal accounts. The defendants and their co-conspirators also allegedly purchased credit card and bank account numbers using the stolen identities of real U.S. persons obtained online.
Counts three through eight charge the Internet Research Agency and four of its employees with aggravated identity theft (18 U.S.C. §1028A) for knowingly transferring, possessing and using, without lawful authority, a means of identification of six different real persons during and in relation to the wire fraud and bank fraud alleged in count two.
No American was a knowingly participant in the operation.

The indictments also reveal that while the Russians wished to influence the election, the Russians had no impact on the election results.

But, what about Christopher Steele, and the dossier?  If no American knew about it, nor was a willing participant, where did Steele's fictional dossier come from?  How was it that the Democrats were so convinced that the Russians wanted Trump to win if the Russians had been operating without any Americans knowing what they were up to?

Is it possible as the rumors began to stir, and it became clear that Russia (once again) was trying to meddle in an American election, the Democrats decided to use that little bit of truth to create a massive story of collusion fiction about Trump?

As the Russians were doing their thing, Steele continued to work on behalf of the Clinton campaign in the hopes of undermining any confidence in the Trump presidency.  He was leaking the contents of his fictional dossier to the press and took it to the FBI.  It was believable because Russian meddling was believed to be true.  While no American was knowingly participating, it was much more sexy to accuse Trump of being head-deep into the conspiracy as an agent working with them.  It was believable because the part about Russian meddling was true (as it likely has been in every American election since the Russian Revolution).

Ultimately, we have no evidence of collusion, we simply have Russians trying to achieve division in the United States. 
The hardy Democrats will still argue, "but the Russians wanted Trump to win."


Then why does the indictment reveal that after Donald Trump carried the State of North Carolina, Russian conspirators posing as grass-roots activists helped arrange a November 19 rally in Charlotte called “Charlotte Against Trump”?

But, let's not jump onto the "they wanted Hillary to win" train, just yet, either.  The indictment says similar rallies in support of Trump were staged by the group in other U.S. cities.

The conspirators also infiltrated community groups such as Black Lives Matter.

Again, the indictment does not say that there was any collusion, or preference by the Russians on who won the election.  The indictment basically says that the whole operation was simply designed to foment discontent throughout the country.

That's not to say that the Russians didn't attempt to create collusion with one of the campaigns. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the Russians attempted to dupe Trump campaign figures into working with them.  Either, the duping didn't work at all, or the Mueller team has decided that at this point prosecutors aren’t ready to begin accusing any Americans of intentionally providing assistance.

-- Political Pistachio Conservative News and Commentary

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