* As I wrote earlier, today we learned that the grand jury impanelled by Robert Mueller handed down indictments against 13 Russian individuals and 3 Russian entities for attempting to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Before we look at the Republican response to this news, it is important to know this:
Sources tell @ABC President Trump was briefed this morning by FBI Director Wray and Deputy AG Rosenstein on the indictments against 13 Russian nationals today
— John Santucci (@Santucci) February 16, 2018
In other words, the White House had time to prepare and distribute talking points. What they came up with was summed up by the president’s tweet shortly after the indictments were announced.
We’ve already seen these three talking points repeated pretty regularly (as you can see in this statement from Ronna McDaniel, RNC Chair):
1. The Russians started in 2014, before Trump announced his candidacy
2. The Russian efforts didn’t affect the outcome of the election
3. There was no collusion with the Trump campaign
* The bulk of activities cited in the indictments happened in 2016. But here’s an interesting tweet in January 2014 from a woman whose twitter profile identifies her as “Advisor to the Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation.”
— Alferova Yulya (@AlferovaYulyaE) January 22, 2014
* The idea that the Russian efforts didn’t affect any voters is preposterous. However, it would be impossible to prove whether or not it affected the outcome of the election, and is, frankly, irrelevant to the investigation.
* The claim of “no collusion” rests on the fact that the indictments describe particular occasions where “defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign.” In particular, that happened when the defendants were promoting events and attempted to coordinate them with campaign volunteers/staff in particular states. That isn’t even close to a blanket statement of “no collusion.”
The other item that is being used to claim that there was no collusion comes from this statement made by Deputy AG Rosenstein during his press conference about the indictments: “There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity.” The key phrase there is “in this indictment.” That doesn’t preclude the possibility of such an allegation in subsequent indictments.
* Beyond those talking points, one of the key developments coming out of this news is a total reversal of the way Republicans are talking about our relationship with Russia. Here is a portion of the statement from Sarah Huckabee in which she refers to Russia as a “bad actor.”
President Trump says, “it is more important than ever before to come together as Americans. We cannot allow those seeking to sow confusion, discord, and rancor to be successful. It’s time we stop the outlandish partisan attacks, wild and false allegations, and far-fetched theories, which only serve to further the agendas of bad actors, like Russia, and do nothing to protect the principles of our institutions. We must unite as Americans to protect the integrity of our democracy and our elections.”
* Even Sean Hannity got on that bandwagon, but he doesn’t really understand why.
* I’ve saved the best (as in the most lame) for last. Here is the statement released by Rep. Devin Nunes:
The Putin regime presents a pressing threat to American interests, including through Moscow’s long-running influence operations against the United States. The House Intelligence Committee has been investigating these threats for many years: in 2014—the year the Russians began their operation targeting the 2016 elections—I warned about Russia’s worldwide influence operations. In April 2016 I stated that the United States’ failure to predict Putin’s plans and intentions is ‘the biggest intelligence failure that we’ve had since 9/11.’ Although the Obama Administration failed to act on the Committee’s warnings, it’s gratifying to see that Russian agents involved in these operations have now been identified and indicted.
Back in October 2016, the U.S. intelligence community released a report about Russian attempts to interfere in the election through the hacking of “political organizations.” Here was Rep. Nunes’ response at the time:
“I’ll be the first one to come out and point at Russia if there’s clear evidence, but there is no clear evidence — even now,” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of the Trump transition team. “There’s a lot of innuendo, lots of circumstantial evidence, that’s it.”
* At this point, we haven’t heard from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about these indictments yet. But it is worth remembering his response when the Obama administration warned congressional leaders about all of this back in September 2016.
According to several officials, McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.
* Finally, this seems like an appropriate way to close out today:
“Ultimately, it all comes down to Waukesha County.” A cartoon by Paul Noth, from 2016. pic.twitter.com/MrjubqHeUH
— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) February 16, 2018