Numerous pundits have commented in great detail and with far greater expertise than I on the indictments (pdf) last week issued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller against thirteen Russians for wire and bank fraud, identity theft, and conspiracy to defraud the United States. (See here and here for two thoughtful conservative takes.)
As an American who cares about our democracy, however, I decided it was essential I read the indictment myself to form my own opinion about it. I advise every American to do the same, using the first link above to download it. My own personal take-aways are as follows:
1. It is a very good thing that Mueller indicted these Russians. Based on the evidence summarized by the indictment, they clearly committed crimes against Americans and the U.S. government. Moreover, those crimes were committed with the intent by foreigners to interfere with our political process, something we must never allow if at all possible, and punish if we can.
2. Still, I am very curious to learn how Mueller’s team obtained the evidence in these indictments. Reading the document suggests that they must have either had extensive wiretaps, or inside information. Unfortunately, as it is very unlikely that any of these Russians will ever go to trial (having apparently all fled back to Russia long before the indictment was announced), this is information we are likely never to get.
I am therefore also very puzzled by the timing of the indictment. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to issue it as soon as possible, and in a way that might have allowed the authorities to detain these individuals so they might be put on trial? Instead, the slow timing seems almost intended to allow them to escape, and thus prevent an actual trial from ever occurring. I wonder why, though I have my suspicions.
3. Despite the correctness of and the need for these indictments, Mueller’s indictment is first and foremost a political document. If you read it, it is quite obvious that its purpose was not to bring these Russians to justice, but to imply that Russia was working with Trump to get him elected, even though a careful analysis of everything the Russians did shows that this is not the case.
Why do I say this? The indictment spends numerous pages describing in incredible detail every single pro-Trump action taken by these Russians, from organizing social media campaigns to anti-Clinton protests to pro-Trump rallies, while providing only one or two very short summaries of the anti-Trump actions they took, thus giving the impression if you do not read the indictment closely that they were essentially a Trump operation. This however is false. Not only does the indictment lack any evidence of any links between the Russians and the Trump campaign, the details indicate strongly the non-partisan nature of the Russian strategy. While prior to the election it appears they favored Trump, once he was the candidate they shifted tactics to attack both him and Clinton. The goal was not so much to get Trump elected but to cause the most negative disruption to the American election process as possible. The indictment itself admits this, though almost as an aside. The first paragraph quote below shows the Russian strategy before Trump is the candidate, with the second showing their strategy afterward.
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