I had understood that the Special Counsel headed by Robert Mueller was set up to investigate allegations of collusion between the campaign team of Donald Trump and the Government of the Russian Federation. On this basis I had presumed that if any indictments were issued, they would at least attempt to prove that such collusion went on.
However, in every case so far, the indictments have had nothing whatsoever to do with the central claim that the investigation is supposed to be looking into. We’ve had the indictment of Paul Manafort. For what? For his alleged dodgy financial dealings and ties to the previous Ukrainian government, dating back to years before Donald Trump announced his candidacy. We’ve had the indictment of George Papadapolous. For what? Allegedly lying to the FBI. We’ve had the indictment of General Michael Flynn, For what? Again, allegedly lying to the FBI.
None of these indictments even attempt to demonstrate the apparent collusion that is supposed to have happened between Mr Trump and the Government of Russia. Indeed, each one of them goes beyond the remit of the investigation, which was set up to examine the collusion claims, and they will have left reasonable observers with the distinct impression that they were more about “creating smoke” to convince people that there is a fire lurking somewhere, than actually presenting the kind of evidence needed to give credence to the collusion allegations.
Indeed, the whole thing reminds me of the famous saying about the Holy Roman Empire: It wasn’t Holy, it wasn’t Roman, and it wasn’t an Empire. And thus far the Special Investigation into Collusion doesn’t look very Special, doesn’t seem to be much of an Investigation, and doesn’t seem to have anything to say about Collusion.
Ah, but what about the latest indictment against 13 Russian nationals, accused of interfering in the American democratic process? There are indeed some serious charges made in the indictment against these individuals, including deception and identity theft. But remember, the purpose of the Special Counsel is to investigate allegations of collusion between Mr Trump’s campaign team and the Russian Government. For the allegations to be shown to be true, Mr Mueller and his team would need to show:
a) Evidence that Mr Trump and/or members of his campaign team colluded with Russian officials
b) Evidence that the collusion was orchestrated by the Russian Government
And here is what the latest indictment, as well as the previous ones, has to say about both these things:
You get the point? Nowhere does the indictment mention anything about the Trump campaign being involved in, or even aware of, the actions of the accused. In fact, Assistant Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, specifically ruled this out in his press conference:
“Now, there is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”
Replying to a question about possible involvement of the Trump campaign, he made the following comment:
“Again, there’s no allegation in this indictment that any American had any knowledge. And 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.”
So not only does the indictment make it clear that the Trump team had no knowledge of the alleged actions of these 13 individuals, Mr Rosenstein has clarified this in his comments and also made it clear that the indictment makes no claims of the actions of these Russian nationals having had any effect on the result of the election.
What about involvement of the Russian state? As Alexander Mercouris points out here, again the indictment says nothing about it whatsoever. As he also notes, this indirectly suggests that the Russian state had no involvement, at least as far as the allegations against the 13 accused in the indictment are concerned. The reason for this is that the indictment goes into a lot of detail about the alleged actions of the 13, suggesting that the US intelligence agencies have been monitoring their activities and have amassed some extremely detailed evidence against them. This being the case, if there were evidence that they had been directed in what they were doing by the Russian state, surely this would have been found and mentioned in the indictment, even if the evidence itself was kept back. And yet it is not there.
In fact, the claims in the indictment all refer to private citizens, with no connection to state officials being mentioned. For instance, 12 of the accused are said to have been working for a St. Petersburg company — Internet Research Agency, LLC — owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, and they were apparently involved in attempts to disrupt the US democratic process by creating false accounts and adopting false personas, especially on social media, as well as disseminating information, some of which was apparently hostile to Hillary Clinton, and others of which were simply taking different sides in debates about social issues.
Whilst these people may possibly be guilty of crimes such as identity theft, the fact that the allegations have been made against them, without any attempt at connecting them either to the Trump team or the Russian state, mean that we can reach the following conclusions:
Firstly, the Mueller investigation has still not presented any evidence of collusion from Mr Trump or his campaign team.
Secondly, the Mueller investigation has still not presented any evidence of the involvement of the Russian Government in any collusion.
Thirdly, just supposing the Russian state was actually behind the actions of these 13 individuals (which I repeat, the indictment does not mention), what it would show is that their attempts to interfere were extraordinarily inept, incompetent and amateurish. A million or so dollars spent to subvert US democracy through a mix of social media adverts, all done with little attempt to stop the US intelligence agencies from discovering a mountain of evidence against the people doing it. Doesn’t sound very convincing, does it?
Yet above all this, there is a much bigger point to make. The indictment is quite obviously intended to keep the Trump/Russian Government collusion narrative going, even though the actual evidence presented does not touch on this at all, but is about the actions of private individuals allegedly meddling in the political process of a foreign country. But if Mr Mueller is really struggling to find actual evidence of state-level meddling in the affairs of other countries, I have an idea for him. Why don’t you just call the CIA? You’ll find plenty of evidence of their interfering in the political process of foreign countries for decades, if you look for it, and I can assure you that their actions have been far more nefarious and destructive than a few adverts on Twitter and Facebook.