Mueller’s Indictment of 13 Russians Strikes Fear Into the Trump White House

Trump’s Russia-first reaction is telling.

Evan Vucci/AP

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

On Friday, the ongoing investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller issued an astounding 37-page indictment charging 13 Russians in a broad conspiracy to sabotage America’s 2016 elections. By Saturday, President Donald Trump and White House officials responded by tripling down on what might be called Trump’s Russia-first strategy. 

Reacting to the indictment, Trump said nothing about the sophisticated multiyear operation to sow discord among US voters, or what he might do to punch back at America’s foe and stop the continuing attacks. Instead, he focused exclusively on the point that the Russian operation predated his official presidential campaign, and that this particular indictment—surely not the last from the sprawling Mueller investigation—contained no allegations of Trump campaign involvement.

“NO COLLUSION,” Trump declared yet again on Twitter and in a statement from the White House.

On Saturday, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley went even further during an appearance on Fox News. He suggested that Russia was not the enemy. The enemy, he said, was within.

“There are two groups that have created chaos more than the Russians and that’s the Democrats and the mainstream media,” Gidley said, alleging that they “continued to push this lie on the American people for more than a year.”

As Trump himself continued on Saturday to let Russia off the hook, downplaying any possible impact from the information warfare conducted on his behalf, a propaganda arm of the Kremlin, the RT network, ran with Gidley’s remarks. RT’s story announced: “Democrats & MSM wreaked far more havoc than Russians,” citing a “White House spokesman.” That was framed by a mocking follow-up tweet from RT: “But which of the two is best at it?”

Trump’s unwillingness even to acknowledge the scope of the Russian attack or suggest that he’ll do anything about it comes off as conspicuously defensive—and suggests fear of what may still be to come from Mueller, who is reportedly close to a plea deal with yet another former Trump aide, Rick Gates.

Trump’s position is also starkly at odds with that of his own top national security aides. Following the indictment, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said at a security conference in Munich that the evidence on the Russian campaign of “disinformation, subversion and espionage” targeting the 2016 US elections “is now incontrovertible.”

Vice President Mike Pence, meanwhile, appears to have his boss’s back. Earlier in the week, Pence said in an interview that “it is the universal conclusion of our intelligence communities that none of those efforts had any effect on the outcome of the 2016 election.” That’s flat-out false—it has long been a matter of public record that the US intelligence community did not assess the impact on the elections from the Russian operations.

The current president still has yet to ever utter a word directly critical of Vladimir Putin. It’s worth also recalling Trump’s emphatic statement in November that he fully believed the Russian prime minister when Putin told Trump that he’d done nothing to interfere in US elections. Trump went so far as to defend Putin’s personal honor over the allegations: “I think he is very insulted by it,” Trump said, “which is not good for our country.” He further implied that US national security leaders were less trustworthy on the matter than Putin, calling them “political hacks.”

Perhaps most significantly, Trump has since refused to enforce congressionally mandated sanctions against Moscow, an extraordinary act of defiance on foreign policy that goes against the will of a coequal branch of government.

What could possibly explain all this behavior from Trump with regard to one of America’s most significant and hostile foreign adversaries? Time will tell. And the answer will not be good.

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate