President Trump has ordered up a big military parade in Washington – tanks and missiles in the streets and giant bombers in the sky, and troops marching, lots of troops, and the Pentagon is humoring him. They’re slow-walking the planning. They’ve told him this will cost thirty million dollars, and someone leaked that to the press. Republicans have rolled their eyes. Democrats have said look, this isn’t North Korea. Constitution Avenue isn’t Red Square either. Trump has said no, think Paris – Bastille Day. What? He wants to be French? But there will be a parade – sooner or later – because he’s a fragile man desperately in need of praise – and things haven’t been going his way.
That big military parade in Washington became more likely this week. This was a bad week. The two wife-beaters on his senior staff are gone, but that didn’t help matters. Why did they get security clearances? They didn’t. They were working without them. Forty percent of his staff is working with provisional interim clearances. There are unanswered questions about them, even after a year on the job. Over one hundred of his senior staff may be security risks – and Trump knew this all along, or his chief-of-staff and the White House attorney knew this all along. This is a serious national security issue. This also makes Trump look indifferent to matters of national security, or dangerously incompetent. That won’t go away, and there was that school shooting in Texas – seventeen dead – but Donald Trump wouldn’t say this had anything to do with the easy availability of the deadliest of military-style weapons. Teenagers can buy those – but he framed this as no more than a mental health issue. Now the surviving kids are screaming at him – do something about the guns or just shut up. They also seem to see the NRA as a terrorist organization that has paid Republicans in Congress to cover for them. Things are going badly – and another porn star – actually a Playboy model – tells of her affair with Donald Trump just after his wife had just given birth to their son. This time the National Inquirer has paid her to keep quiet, not Trump’s personal attorney. The National Inquirer is run by Trump’s good friend David Pecker. That is his name. It was a bad week.
Friday couldn’t come soon enough, and then the hammer dropped:
The Justice Department charged 13 Russians and three companies on Friday in a sprawling indictment that unveiled a sophisticated network designed to subvert the 2016 election and to support the Trump campaign. It stretched from an office in St. Petersburg, Russia, into the social feeds of Americans and ultimately reached the streets of election battleground states.
The Russians stole the identities of American citizens, posed as political activists and used the flash points of immigration, religion and race to manipulate a campaign in which those issues were already particularly divisive, prosecutors said.
So the whole thing wasn’t a hoax cooked up by the Democrats, the sore losers, but there was some good news:
Some of the Russians were also in contact with “unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign,” according to court papers. Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel leading the investigation, made no accusation that President Trump or his associates were knowingly part of the conspiracy.
Trump can now claim his staff was filled with unwitting individuals who were too easily duped, but that’s not a useful thing to claim:
“The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy,” Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the inquiry, said in a brief news conference. “We must not allow them to succeed.”
The 37-page indictment – handed up by a federal grand jury in Washington – amounted to a detailed rebuttal of Mr. Trump, who has sowed doubts that Russia interfered in the election and dismissed questions about its meddling as “fake news.”
And there was this:
The Justice Department said Mr. Mueller’s work was not complete. The indictment does not address the hacking of Democratic email systems or whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct the FBI investigation into Russian interference. Mr. Mueller is negotiating with the president’s lawyers over the terms of a possible interview.
This isn’t over, and so far this was bad news, or it was good news, or it wasn’t:
The Russian operation began four years ago, well before Mr. Trump entered the presidential race, a fact that he quickly seized on in his defense. “Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President,” he wrote on Twitter. “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”
But Mr. Trump’s statement ignored the government’s conclusion that, by 2016, the Russians were “supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump” and disparaging Hillary Clinton, his opponent. Working out of the office in St. Petersburg, the Russians described waging “information warfare against the United States of America,” according to court documents.
Mr. Mueller has gathered extensive evidence of contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign: Mr. Trump’s eldest son met with a Russian lawyer in hopes of receiving political dirt on Mrs. Clinton; one adviser has admitted being tipped off in advance to Russian hacking of Democratic emails; another was in contact with a Twitter account used by Russian hackers; a federal judge found probable cause that a third adviser was an unlawful Russian agent. And the Trump campaign repeatedly and falsely denied any contacts with Russia.
Trump’s tweet was premature, because this was one hell of an operation:
Whether any of that violated federal law is the weightiest question facing Mr. Mueller, and Friday’s indictment did not answer it. But it painted a picture of a Russian operation that was multipronged, well financed and relentless…
Russian operatives traveled across the United States to gather intelligence and foment political discord. They worked with an unidentified American who advised them to focus their efforts on what they viewed as “purple” election battleground states, including Colorado, Virginia and Florida, the indictment said.
In August 2016, prosecutors said, Russians posed as Americans and coordinated with Trump campaign staff to organize rallies in Florida.
Trump’s naïve campaign staff got played – that’s the charitable interpretation – but one point was that Putin is not the great guy that Trump keeps saying he is:
The indictment does not explicitly say the Russian government sponsored the effort, but American intelligence officials have publicly said that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia directed and oversaw it. The indictment notes that two of the Russian firms involved hold Russian government contracts.
“This is clearly a message document,” Robert S. Litt, the former general counsel to the director of national intelligence, said of the indictment. “Mueller wants to end the debate over whether there was Russian interference in the election.”
Mueller did that, and the details were stunning:
Russian computer specialists, divided into day teams and night teams, created hundreds of social media accounts that eventually attracted hundreds of thousands of online followers. They posed as Christian activists, anti-immigration groups and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. One account posed as the Tennessee Republican Party and generated hundreds of thousands of followers, prosecutors said.
And there was this:
In summer 2016 as Mrs. Clinton appeared headed for a decisive general election victory, Russian operatives promoted allegations of Democratic voter fraud. That echoed Mr. Trump’s own message that he was the victim of a rigged political system.
After the election, the Russians kept up their efforts to foment dissent. In November, they staged two rallies in New York on the same day. One had the theme, “Show your support for President-Elect Trump.” The other was called, “Trump is NOT my President.”
Putin was having a fine time, and Bloomberg News reports this:
Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his prosecutors haven’t concluded their investigation into whether President Donald Trump or any of his associates helped Russia interfere in the 2016 election, according to a person with knowledge of the probe.
Friday’s indictment of a St. Petersburg-based “troll farm” and 13 Russian nationals should be seen as a limited slice of a comprehensive investigation, the person said. Mueller’s work is expected to continue for months and also includes examining potential obstruction of justice by Trump, said the person, who requested anonymity to discuss an investigation that is largely confidential…
It’s still possible that Mueller will indict Americans for knowingly helping Russia, the person said.
By contrast, Trump and those around him portrayed the Russia investigation as if it were all but closed. “I am happy for the country. Bob and his team did a very good job on this,” Trump lawyer John Dowd said, although he declined to say if the action clears the president.
That won’t do:
Representative Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat who’s the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, said the announcement Friday should “lay to rest” assertions the investigation was a hoax and preempt efforts to remove officials involved in investigating Trump.
“At this point, any step President Trump may take to interfere with the Special Counsel’s investigation — including removing Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, or threatening to remove Special Counsel Mueller directly – will have to be seen as a direct attempt to aid the Russian government in attacking American democracy,” Nadler said in a statement.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Mueller’s inquiry must be allowed to follow the facts “unhindered by the White House or Republicans in Congress.”
Mueller sprang a trap on Trump. Trump can’t fire anyone now, and Jonathan Chait adds this:
One of President Trump’s favorite methods to defend his innocence in the Russia investigation is to claim that any piece of evidence that does not explicitly assert his guilt is in fact evidence of his innocence. Trump has been applying this method to the intelligence community’s assessment of Russian election interference. The report steered clear of the unanswerable question of whether Russian intervention moved enough votes to hand Trump the Electoral College, because neither intelligence analysts nor anybody can measure just how many votes were changed by developments on the campaign. Trump has repeatedly lied that the report made a positive case that Russian interference made no difference. It is exactly like saying Trump was cleared by the Warren Commission because the Warren Commission report makes no conclusion about Trump and Russia.
This has gotten absurd:
Trump’s defense is simply to pretend it is an investigation of his campaign and he’s somehow been cleared… Literally nothing like this is found in the indictment. It does not say there’s no collusion. It simply addresses an aspect of Russian activity that may not have entailed collusion. And if you expected the president to make an argument more sophisticated than this extremely simplistic and obviously false denial, which treats an indictment of something other than collusion as proof there is no collusion, then you probably haven’t been paying attention.
On the other hand, there was this:
The indictment of 13 Russians and three Russian companies for allegedly interfering in the 2016 presidential election shows that former President Obama’s administration “lost sight of Russia,” according to Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel…
McDaniel noted that Obama famously mocked Mitt Romney during a 2012 presidential debate on foreign policy after Romney said Russia is the greatest geopolitical threat to the United States.
That was the discussion on Fox News. This was Obama’s fault. Trump has always said that Russia is our deadliest foe and Putin in a totally evil man. Don’t you remember? Fox News is a strange place.
Jennifer Rubin tries to set things straight:
There is no “hoax,” and Trump’s insistence that the Russia investigation is about nothing only reinforces the perception that his ego won’t allow him to concede that he received Russian help and/or that he’s been trying to disable the Russia investigation, precisely because he did not want this plot of interference to come out.
That’s a good enough summary, and she adds this:
Mueller and his team are moving with remarkable speed, wrapping up witnesses and substantiating a conspiracy to influence the election. There is much more to this than “just” evidence of obstruction. There is an embarrassing scheme to fix our election by a hostile foreign power that certainly could have been the motive for Trump’s effort to thwart the Russia investigation. Mueller has multiple cooperating witnesses: Michael Flynn, Richard Pinedo (the indicted American), George Papadopoulos and soon, we are told, Rick Gates. Trump and his legal team should be exceptionally worried about what else Mueller has.
Now add this:
The president’s failure to take action to protect the U.S. election system and prevent another assault on our democracy – a real and ongoing concern voiced by the unanimous testimony of his top intelligence officials – appears to be a gross dereliction of Trump’s duties and an abrogation of his oath.
The Russian plan was specifically aimed at helping Trump.
Now add this:
While Rosenstein said there was no evidence that the actions in the indictment affected the election outcome, such an assertion, he surely must know, is not a provable fact and is legally immaterial. No one can prove how many people were affected by what the Russians put out.
A plan of this magnitude involving so many people and so much money could not have feasibly been conducted without the knowledge or assistance of the Kremlin.
And forget that stupid memo:
Carter Page is largely irrelevant to the larger plot to undermine the U.S. election system. Republicans’ efforts, led by the clownish Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), to assist and enable Trump now look foolish or worse. What has been implicit is now explicit: They are doing the Russians’ work for them.
Rubin sees this as a really bad end to an awful week:
The indictments and plea raise a slew of questions: How did Mueller get the information? Did any Trump official have any connection to the Russians? How did the Russians determine what hashtags to use and what themes to push? If we are now in pursuit of social media players, are the hackers who broke into the DNC and John Podesta’s emails in sight? Rosenstein described help afforded to the Russians by “unwitting” figures linked to the Trump campaign. However, as one Russia guru points out to me, “On the ‘unwitting’ Trump campaign officials, we know there was a hell of a lot of ‘witting.’ That is effectively what the June 9 meeting [at Trump Tower] and [outreach to Russians from] Papadopoulos show.”
Once more, we are reminded how little we know about what Mueller has already found. If he has this much evidence just on the quadrant of a Russian troll farm, what else is out there?
Matthew Nussbaum at Politico takes it from there:
The indictment, brought by special counsel Robert Mueller, only compounds fears in the White House that Trump will attack the FBI in the wake of a school shooting in Florida that left 17 dead, and revelations that the bureau mishandled a tip about the alleged shooter it received in January. Senior staffers are actively urging Trump to avoid attacking the FBI, one administration official said.
But for Trump, famously furious about the notion that a foreign adversary aided his political rise, the detailed revelation that Russia poured resources toward securing his win could prove one instigation too far. He has frequently railed against the Russia investigation, dismissing it as a “witch hunt” and “fake news.” And he has bristled at the notion that Russian interference assisted his upset win over Hillary Clinton, calling the notion a “phony Democrat excuse for losing.”
“He has always been concerned about the legitimacy of his election,” said Rick Tyler, a former communications director for Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential bid. “This is criminal activity that these indictments point to that helped Donald Trump get elected. … My guess is he will try to delegitimize it and dismiss it.”
“What needs to happen is someone senior around Trump needs to explain the distinction between Russian meddling and Russian collusion,” said one White House official, voicing fear that Trump will leverage his frequent denials of collusion into a broader effort to dismiss Mueller’s findings that Russia actively interfered in the election…
But Trump has demonstrated a difficulty in the past with accepting any information that raises doubt about his election victory, which he frequently brags about. He still, for example, stands by a claim that Clinton’s popular-vote victory was the result of widespread voter fraud, despite no evidence to support the assertion.
He is a fragile man desperately in need of praise, who lashes out when he doesn’t get it, and he lost the Golden Boy on his side too:
“We have known that Russians meddled in the election, but these indictments detail the extent of the subterfuge,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement. “These Russians engaged in a sinister and systematic attack on our political system. It was a conspiracy to subvert the process, and take aim at democracy itself. Today’s announcement underscores why we need to follow the facts and work to protect the integrity of future elections.”
Paul Ryan probably won’t be invited to the big military parade, but then things got worse:
White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly announced Friday that beginning next week the White House will no longer allow some employees with interim security clearances access to top-secret information – a move that could threaten the standing of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law.
Kushner, a senior adviser to the president, has been able to see some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets even as his background investigation has dragged on for more than a year.
That may end:
White House officials have privately discussed concerns that Kushner’s clearance faces obstacles, according to people familiar with internal conversations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private talks. Among the potential problems: repeated amendments that he had to make to a form detailing his contacts with foreign officials. Two U.S. officials said they do not expect Kushner to receive a permanent security clearance in the near future.
He may never receive a permanent security clearance, and that’s trouble:
It is not clear how Kushner could perform his job without a high-level security clearance. He holds a broad range of responsibilities, from overseeing peace efforts in the Middle East to improving the efficiency of the federal government. And he is the administration’s interlocutor with key allies, including China and Saudi Arabia, where he has developed a personal relationship with the young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
Someone else may have to take care of all that, because this will end:
Kushner has been present at meetings with the president where classified information was discussed and has access to the President’s Daily Brief, a digest of intelligence updates based on information from spies, satellites, and surveillance technology, according to people with knowledge of his access.
And apart from staff on the National Security Council, he issues more requests for information to the intelligence community than any White House employee, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions.
General Kelly probably won’t be invited to the big military parade either. It’ll just be Trump, and the tanks and missiles in the streets and giant bombers in the sky, and troops marching, lots of troops, unless Trump invites Vladimir Putin – but Mueller dropped the hammer. Vladimir Putin was looking for the one candidate who could do the most harm to America. Putin chose Trump. No military parade can change that fact.