The grand jury convened by Robert Mueller has returned indictments against 13 Russians and three Russian entities charged with “knowingly and intentionally conspiring with each other (and with persons known and unknown to the grand jury) to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”
The indictments are clear about the goal of these efforts:
In other words, Trump’s ridiculous claim that this was all a “hoax” just went down in flames. For now, even he is conceding the point of these indictments—that Russia did, in fact, attempt to interfere in the election. But his last two sentences are not supported by facts.
One of the first things that jumped out at me is that the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg is named in the indictment as the organization that coordinated these efforts. That is the agency that reporter Adrian Chen wrote about way back in June 2015. Anyone who hasn’t already read his news-breaking account should do so immediately.
Because of great reporting from people like Chen, many of the charges contained in these indictments relate to activities we’ve already heard about. They are focused on how the Russians used various social media platforms as a way to target Trump’s opponents. But the Mueller team has obviously tracked down the individuals involved, their specific activities, and their payment methods.
Nowhere do the indictments address the question of whether or not these activities were coordinated with the Trump campaign. But this example is revealing:
One of the things to notice is that an awful lot of things started coming together in June 2016, about the time the Russians met with Trump Jr, Kushner, and Manafort. Here is a clue about a Texas-based grassroots organization that might have been involved:
With guidance from Kushner, Parscale built the [Trump] campaign’s digital headquarters in the outskirts of San Antonio, where he hired Giles-Parscale employees as well as outside vendors to help with Facebook advertising, which he claims made the difference at the polling booths…
In total, the Trump campaign paid $94 million to Giles-Parscale, according to the Federal Election Commision database, although most of the money went to vendors that Parscale had hired—including data company Cambridge Analytica.
When it comes to what these indictments say about the progress of the Mueller investigation, it is fascinating to note the detail with which they lay out specific activities conducted by named individuals on particular dates. As Adam Taylor suggested on Twitter, it’s almost as if they have access to Internet Research Agency’s internal communications. As I’ve been saying all along, it is very possible that Mueller’s team has amassed a lot more evidence than has been hinted at in the media.
I’ve also seen this theory from a couple of smart people on Twitter:
If they can remove any doubt that Russia attempted to interfere with the election then Trump’s rationale for firing Mueller evaporates.
— Mikel Jollett (@Mikel_Jollett) February 16, 2018
Based on what we know about Trump, I doubt he would depend on a “rationale” to fire Mueller. But along these lines, I suspect that Armando might be on to something.
If Trump doesn’t fire Mueller until after direct Trump campaign involvement is central allegation, then it’s too late.
— Armando (@ArmandoNDK) February 16, 2018
It wouldn’t be unusual for the trajectory of a case like this to proceed much like a spiral that travels around the target in ever-shrinking circles. Through all of this we’re learning that it is never a good idea to underestimate Robert Mueller and his team.