Democrats’ response, as well as the media’s response, to the surprise indictment on February 16th of thirteen Russian nationals plays directly into Russian president Putin’s hands. They are doing exactly what he wishes they would do in his most giddy and feverish of dreams: claiming that the U.S. political process is damaged, and pretending that our votes have no meaning.
The Internet Research Agency’s “translator project”—that of the organization set up by Russians to interfere in the U.S. political process—was born for the express purpose of “spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” This quotation, of course, comes from the 37-page indictment released courtesy of the team led by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
Is it a surprise that Democrats’ response mirrors the media’s response? Not particularly. Is it a surprise that their spin on the story paints a negative picture of President Trump? Obviously not. At this point, it’s less like painting a picture and more like lathering the umpteenth layer on a long crusted-over piece of artwork.
However, it is notable that the Mueller indictment names the specific organization that carried out a pattern of propagandistic activities and reveals its exact purpose: that is, to create a sense of distrust in the American political process. Until last month, pundits could only speculate vaguely about some mystical threat out there in the ether. Now, pundits can name their enemy. Unfortunately for them, they cannot yet name a single actor connected to Trump.
Certainly, Messrs. Manafort, Flynn, and Papadopoulos broke the law, albeit under variegated classes of misconduct. Besides differing from one another, the charges that led to each man’s respective fall from grace also differed from the original duty of the Special Counsel in one very conspicuous way: they are completely and utterly unrelated to it!
The Justice Department appointed the Special Counsel to investigate interference in the 2016 presidential election. Manafort was charged due to financial misconduct, while Flynn and Papadopoulos were caught lying to the FBI. The majority of Manafort’s misconduct occurred before the election, while Flynn and Papadopoulos lied to the FBI, obviously, not during the election but after it, when law enforcement took an interest in them. I clarify all of this not to downplay the seriousness of Messrs. Manafort, Flynn and Papadopoulos’ actions, but instead to point out that until last month, not a single actor had been indicted for any actions that constitute interference in the presidential election. Their misconduct hardly even took place during the election at all.
That fact has not altered Democrats’ tune for the most part. Most Democrats, and, redundantly, most members of the mainstream media, have feigned horror and righteous indignation at the results so far of Mr. Mueller’s investigation. They have insinuated, and the nuttiest among them have outright claimed, that the electoral process was significantly compromised or even that the Russians fully swayed the outcome of the election. And they cite the above trio’s downfalls as evidence in flagrante delicto that members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russian nationals to aid the interference.
But if that were true, then why did the February indictment not target a single member of the Trump campaign? Why, instead, did its authors take great pains to unequivocally state that members of the Trump campaign who did receive contact from the Russian nationals received it “unwittingly?” If the Mueller team had anything damning on Trump aides related to the Russian ploy, they likely would have targeted the would-be suspects in the indictment.
As such, unless and until Mueller announces evidence to the contrary, Democrats’ thesis rests on the cracked and crumbling foundation that remains of their beloved Russia narrative.
The one Democrat who has publicly excepted himself from his party’s talking points happens to be up for reelection this year. His name is Robert P. Casey, or “Bob,” and he is the senior U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania. And instead of parroting the blather of the mainstream media, he has poised strategically.
“I don’t think we’ll know anywhere near the full story until [Mueller] issues his report,” Casey said, according to the Washington Examiner. Notably: “I think it’s a mistake for him to release it late. I think you should wait until after [the election].” This seems shrewd. While his party colleagues perform the role Russians wrote for them, Senator Casey pushes the agenda that might actually advantage his party if consummated in full. The February indictment suggests that when Mueller releases the final report, it will clear Republicans can rob Democrats of an already fading message. Better to save the final report for after the midterms so Democrats can squeeze out one last bit of political utility.
Pennsylvania Republicans’ response, meanwhile, has been to ridicule the Democrats. Gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner said the investigation is “a lot of propaganda,” while junior Senator Patrick J. Toomey noted that “on cable news it’s wall-to-wall Trump and Russia.” Senator Toomey also called the investigation “overblown” and said that he pays little attention to it. The poise reflected here seems at least as shrewd as his fellow senator’s strategy. If Republicans look to win in 2018, they should call the February indictment what it is: very good news for the president.
Before the February indictment, Senator Casey did echo the invective of his party when he declared, “Russia attacked our democracy and anyone that aided that effort must be held fully accountable.” That he has since changed his tune speaks more to shifted expectations of the Mueller probe’s apex than it does to political guile. The rest of Casey’s party would do well to follow suit and shirk its current strategy of baseless bluster. If they do not, they may continue to play directly into Putin’s hands—with no political win to show for it.