The White House says Robert Mueller's indictment proves Russia didn't affect the election outcome — here's why they may be wrong

Indictment offers the most detailed account yet of a sophisticated Russian effort to swing the vote

Jeremy B. White
San Francisco
Saturday 17 February 2018 02:03 GMT
Rod Rosenstein announces thirteen Russian nationals have been indicted in Mueller probe

The Republican Party has claimed vindication from the charges against 13 Russian nationals alleged to have meddled in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Donald Trump “is glad to see the Special Counsel’s investigation further indicates—that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and that the outcome of the election was not changed or affected,” the White House said.

Echoing the comments, Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel said: “It remains crystal clear that there was no collusion and the Russians were unsuccessful in their attempts to influence the results of this the election."

Leaving aside for a moment the question of collusion, critical though it may be to special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. The indictment contains no evidence of deliberate coordination, calling Trump campaign officials’ interactions with Russians “unwitting”, but it also does not offer the final word on the potential scope of Mr Mueller’s investigation.

What the indictment does do is make the strongest case yet for the possibility that Russian efforts could have tipped a presidential contest that came down to slender margins in a handful of competitive states.

Short of following people into the voting booth, it’s impossible to say with certainty whether or to what extent Russian incursions altered the final tally. But it’s hard to square Republicans’ categorical claims with the substance of the charging document, which describes a sophisticated and conscious gambit by the Internet Research Agency (IRA) to focus on the hinges that could swing a tight election — guided by an antipathy for Hillary Clinton.

Some of the key allegations:

The IRA organised actual political rallies

We’ve already heard from social media giants about the disruption campaign that flowed through online channels like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, with the goal of sowing distrust and fomenting discord. But the indictment also adds more evidence that the online offensive translated into physical events.

That allegedly included staged political rallies in which Americans were offered money “to promote or disparage candidates”, including planned “March for Trump” and “Down with Hillary” rallies in New York.

An American was allegedly recruited to hold up a sign quoting Ms Clinton embracing Sharia law; another was paid to “build a cage on a flatbed truck and another US citizen to wear a costume portraying Clinton in a prison uniform”, the charges state.

The IRA focused on "purple" or swing states

As part of what the indictment describes as a Russian effort to gather “intelligence,” operatives posing as activists allegedly reached out to politically engaged Americans. From a person affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots organisation, they gleaned a tactic that would be familiar to any presidential campaign strategist: target “purple states like Colorado, Virginia & Florida”, according to the indictment.

The concept of “purple states” — swing states that are neither solidly Republican red nor irreversibly Democratic blue — was “commonly referred to” by IRA agents devising where to direct their efforts, the document alleges. The phrase allegedly popped up in a Facebook message sent from a Russian posing as an American to a pro-Trump outfit in Florida:

“Florida is still a purple state and we need to paint it red,” the message allegedly said. “If we lose Florida, we lose America. We can’t let it happen, right? What about organising a YUGE pro-Trump flash mob in every Florida town?”

The IRA tried to peel Democrat-leaning voters from Ms Clinton

The strategy was not limited to which states to focus on, according to the indictment. It alleges that the IRA also targeted certain liberal-leaning voter blocs, trying to dissuade their members from supporting Ms Clinton.

Days before the election, an apocryphal “Blacktivist” account allegedly bought an ad that read “Choose peace and vote for Jill Stein. Trust me, it’s not a wasted vote.”

A message from the fake “Woke Blacks” account allegedly cautioned against supporting “the lesser of two devils” in backing “Killary,” concluding that “we’d surely be better off without voting AT ALL.”

The IRA-controlled “United Muslims for America” claimed “American Muslim voters refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton because she wants to continue the war on Muslims in the middle east and voted yes for invading Iraq”, according to the indictment.

Polling numbers both African-American and Muslim-American voters are strong liberal constituencies whose members are likelier to support Democrats.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in