WASHINGTON — The White House declared Friday that the latest charges stemming from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election proved there was “NO COLLUSION” (all caps in the original statement) between President Trump’s campaign and Moscow-tied operatives. And Trump himself insisted on Twitter that “the results of the election were not impacted.”
“Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President,” the president tweeted. “The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”
In fact, however, the indictment unveiled Friday doesn’t say that there was no coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian influence operation, merely that there are no such charges in the document. By doing so, it leaves open the possibility that special counsel Robert Mueller may allege collusion in the future. Bloomberg News reported that his investigation into the matter continues. And the indictment explicitly does not take a position on whether or not the scheme shaped the outcome of the vote.
“There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told reporters at a Justice Department press conference announcing the charges against 13 Russians. “There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”
Pressed on the question of collusion, Rosenstein replied: “The nature of the scheme was the defendants took extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary American political activists, even going so far as to base their activities on a virtual private network here in the United States so, if anybody traced it back to that first jump, they appeared to be Americans.”
The indictment paints a picture of Russian operatives using fake social media accounts, creating false advertisements, and even staging rallies with the apparent goal of hurting Hillary Clinton while boosting her Democratic primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and tearing down some of Trump’s competitors for the GOP nomination.
“They engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton,” the indictment alleges, “to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.”
In a written statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders welcomed the announcement. “President Donald J. Trump has been fully briefed on this matter and is glad to see the Special Counsel’s investigation further indicates that there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia and that the outcome of the election was not changed or affected,” she said.
“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,” Sanders said. “We must unite as Americans to protect the integrity of our democracy and our elections.”
Trump’s and Sanders’s statements may be the clearest acknowledgment yet by the White House that it accepts the U.S. intelligence community’s finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. The president has called Mueller’s probe a “witch hunt” and a “hoax” by Democrats desperate to explain how Hillary Clinton lost to Trump. At other times, the president’s message has been muddled. At one November 2017 press conference, he first suggested that he accepts Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials of Russian involvement, saying: “I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election” and then quickly added, “As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies.”
The U.S. intelligence community formally declared on Jan. 6, 2017, that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election. Moscow “developed a clear preference” for Trump over longtime Moscow critic Clinton and “aspired to help” the real estate mogul.
But it added, “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election,” according to the formal findings, released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion.”
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