The investigation President Trump long derided as “a witch hunt” just caught its first 13 witches. A 37-page indictment by a federal grand jury provides detailed evidence of a brazen Russian conspiracy that began in 2014 as an effort to disrupt the American democratic process generally, and evolved in 2016 into a concerted effort to boost the candidacy of Donald Trump.
The nexus of this sophisticated operation was a Russian “troll farm” called the Internet Research Agency, which sought to carry out “information warfare against the United States of America” according to the indictment delivered by special counsel Robert Mueller.
While the indictment indicates that the Russians worked with Americans — including associates of the Trump campaign — it offers no evidence that any of the Americans were aware of the foreign origins of the schemes. Foreign citizens are prohibited by federal law from meddling in U.S. elections. The Russian operatives used fictitious names and opened bogus social media accounts to present themselves as grassroots American activists.
However, it is important to note that the Mueller investigation is not over. The indictment makes plain that the Russians received American assistance in ways small and large, from the woman they paid to dress up as Hillary Clinton in prison garb at a Florida rally to the guidance they received from a “Texas-based grassroots organization” on which battleground states to focus on.
Thirteen Russians were charged in the multimillion-dollar scheme.
Trump and his apologists on Capitol Hill and cable news can retire their talking points about the Mueller investigation coming up empty on Russian interference, or spending its time on financial issues and other matters that have nothing to do with the 2016 election. The indictment alleges that the Russian efforts were substantial, and “included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump ... and disparaging Hillary Clinton.”
Then there is the question not answered in the indictment, and probably unknowable or at least unprovable: Did the Russian meddling affect the outcome of the 2016 election?
At a news conference Friday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein emphasized that “there is no allegation in the indictment of any effect” on the vote.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. Using thousands of accounts, the Russian troll farm peppered social media with posts to foment vitriol in the Trump-Clinton race. The Russian campaign took a turn in February 2016, when its specialists were instructed to “use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump — we support them).”
The indictment should put to rest any inclination by Trump to fire Mueller or Rosenstein to curb or shut down the investigation. It needs to continue, wherever it leads. Americans now know in damning detail that a foreign adversary conspired in a big way to try to disrupt and direct our democratic process.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, has led the charge for more than a year to create an independent commission, similar to the one that deconstructed the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to understand the nature and extent of foreign interference in the 2016 election. The Republicans who control Congress have so far dismissed the idea.
They just lost all excuses for inaction. The attack on our democracy was real, it was sustained, and it could happen again unless we stiffen our defenses.
Article: San Francisco Chronicle, by Editorial Board