What Mueller’s Indictment of Russians Means

In a surprising move, Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday indicted 13 Russian citizens for a number of crimes related to interference in the 2016 presidential election. That is, a grand jury indicted them, but that’s pretty much the same thing. Greg Sargent of the Washington Post explains what this means for the broader Russia investigation.

First, it means that for the first time we have detailed information on what Mueller knows about Russian interference, who did it, why they did it and who they might have communicated with in the United States. And we know that some of those actions, at least, might rise to the level of being crimes. But since it’s incredibly unlikely that any of the people who were indicted will ever be here to stand trial, those allegations will not have to be proven.

The key question, obviously, is whether this proves collusion between the Trump campaign and those who engaged in the Russian interference, and the answer to that, at this point, is “we don’t know.” There are some hints in the indictments themselves, but nothing conclusive.

We still don’t know whether Trump campaign officials or any other Americans conspired with this alleged effort to influence the election.

There’s some confusion around this point. The indictment says that some of the defendants “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign.” At a presser just now, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein reiterated this, claiming that “there’s no allegation in this indictment” that any American was aware of the alleged crimes. (Emphasis mine.)

But Eliason tells me that we simply cannot know yet what this means. It could very well mean that Mueller has not, or will not, find any evidence of U.S. persons knowingly conspiring with these efforts. Or, Eliason says, it could mean there’s more to come.

“What remains unanswered is whether they had U.S. help,” Eliason tells me, adding that the language in the indictment “doesn’t mean the only people involved are these unwitting ones.”

“There could be an investigative reason for not fully showing your hand now,” Eliason says. “Or it could be that they don’t have sufficient information yet to implicate U.S. individuals.” Eliason notes: “We can’t say anything one way or the other.”

This fits with my prediction all along, which is that they are unlikely to be able to prove any actual collusion, by which I mean that they won’t be able to show that the Trump campaign was helping this propaganda campaign being waged on his behalf and against Hillary Clinton. We do know from those emails sent to Donald Trump, Jr. that they were told that Putin wanted to help get Trump elected, but that’s not the same thing as proof of collusion.

I still maintain that if they’re able to nail Trump and his closest associates (his children, Manafort, Flynn), it will be for money laundering and obstruction of justice (and possibly for tax fraud as well). Manafort is already facing such charges on tax evasion and money laundering.

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