US President Donald Trump has insisted for more than a year that Russians did not try to get him elected. Special counsel Robert Mueller put an end to those claims on Friday, declaring definitively that they did.
A federal grand jury indicted 13 Russian nationals and a so-called “troll farm” in St Petersburg, Russia, on Friday for a broad campaign to sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.
The indictment alleges that the operation was funded to the tune of US$1.25 million a month by companies controlled by a Russian businessman close to the Kremlin.
The indictment means that Trump can no longer credibly cast doubt on alleged Russian election meddling.
If he was still harboring dreams of firing Mueller or US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, something many Republicans already have warned against, such a move may be politically impossible.
The White House seized on Rosenstein’s declaration that Friday’s indictment did not allege “that any American had any knowledge” of the Russian interference, declaring “NO COLLUSION” in a statement.
However, the special counsel is still probing whether Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russians, a person familiar with the matter said.
The indictment reverberated from the White House and the US Congress across foreign policy and diplomatic circles. It represents a fundamental shift. The US intelligence community’s assertions that Russia interfered in the election, based on classified evidence never revealed to the public, was easily dismissed by Trump and his allies.
Now there are concrete charges that Russians defrauded the US government, with memos and other evidence to back up the allegations.
“It’s much harder for him to be able to impugn the integrity of sworn testimony in open court about the intention of the Russians to interfere in our elections,” said Michael Allen, managing director of Beacon Global Strategies, which advises clients on international, cyber and homeland security policy.
Trump seemed to recognize the changed landscape himself.
In a tweet, he acknowledged a Russian “anti-US campaign,” and in the White House statement he called the country a “bad actor.”
He has previously — and frequently — described allegations of Russian meddling in the election as “a hoax.”
His lawyers complimented Mueller in statements, though they used the past tense — did” — to describe his work, suggesting optimism that the investigation has concluded.
It has not. Rosenstein, at his news conference, said nothing about future indictments.
Rosenstein said the indictment does not allege “that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”
He also said the US would request their extradition.
Allen, a former adviser to former US president George W. Bush and House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Republicans, said the indictment makes it harder for Trump to challenge the FBI, Department of Justice and intelligence community, and gives Rosenstein a “sort of a bulletproof vest” against being fired or undercut.
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