You know that parable of the group of blind men feeling different parts of an elephant and trying to identify what it is? “It’s a tree.” “It’s a snake.” “It’s a sail.” The massive Trump-Russia conspiracy is like that, except all of them are saying, “It’s an elephant, idiots.”
The Trump campaign, including Donald Trump, conspired with Russia against the United States.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s latest indictment, unsealed in federal court last Friday, is the next chapter in the story he’s telling of that conspiracy. This one is the logical follow-up to an indictment delivered in February, which charged 13 Russian nationals and three corporations with a conspiracy related to the social media campaign carried out by the Kremlin-backed “Internet Research Agency” and designed to undermine the democratic process and help Trump get elected. You can read this latest indictment here.
But what’s next? Anything? Trumplandia wants us to believe that’s a wrap: Mueller found his men, and now it’s time to shut things down. No Americans were involved, said team Trump’s tenderfoot Rudy Giuliani, so we can all rest easy.
But that’s a lie: The indictment does implicate Americans in the conspiracy, most interestingly someone “regularly in contact with senior members of the Trump campaign” (that’s Roger Stone), and a Congressional candidate, who as far as we know might actually have been elected and serves the country today. Mueller also implicates but pointedly does not name WikiLeaks.
Probably the most important takeaway from this indictment, and the one before it, is that Mueller has been able to package abstract actions committed by a foreign power as criminal conspiracies. This sets up what’s sure to be a series of explosive indictments ahead, because whoever helped the Russians in their efforts to corrode the democratic process and sway the election to Trump can be charged with the same things.
So who helped?
Well, Donald Trump, obviously. For just one example, here are 56 times he used the WikiLeaks material, which our intelligence agencies repeatedly briefed him during the election was stolen by the Russian government, to attack his opponent. But everyone already knew that, right? Okay, so who else is next?
This is so obvious you can probably write the rest of this section. Mueller doesn’t name WikiLeaks, only identifies them as “Organization 1.” But the Washington Post has confirmed the obvious: That organization is WikiLeaks.
Again, note that Mueller’s story of the hacking conspiracy is unfolding in a linear timeline. We first had the social media campaign, which had been a years-long project. Now we’ve got the hack itself, which the Russians used that pre-existing infrastructure to amplify. The next step is what will connect those two things: The public release of the information. That’s where WikiLeaks comes in.
The indictment quotes a conversation WikiLeaks had in early July 2016 with an online persona named Guccifer 2.0 (who described himself publicly as a lone Romanian hacker, but was in reality a group of Russian intelligence officials):
If you have anything Hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC [Democratic National Convention] is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after… we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary … so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.
Later that month, just in time for the Democratic National Convention, WikiLeaks released 20,000 stolen DNC emails. Those emails suggested a DNC conspiracy against Bernie Sanders, and the fallout from that forced DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to resign. This split the Democratic party so deeply that we still hear these arguments today. In other words, it was exactly what Assange asked for.
Guccifer had almost immediately claimed responsibility for the hack, but in later interviews WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange suggested he might have gotten the emails from Seth Rich, a young DNC staffer who got murdered that summer. Rich’s murder — which police have ruled a consequence of a robbery — was the pretense for right-wingers to launch a disgusting conspiracy theory to smear Rich as a mole. Who propelled this theory? Sean Hannity. Literally with Trump’s personal approval.
One nice thing to come out of this indictment: Fox News will finally (probably) leave Seth Rich’s grieving family alone. (It’s worth noting that Rich’s family filed a lawsuit against Fox News earlier this year.)
But the indictment shows us that Assange lied about this. WikiLeaks reached out directly to Guccifer for the material. Not only did WikiLeaks ask for dirt, they asked for a specific kind of dirt, to propel a specific strategy, specifically in favor of Trump. This places WikiLeaks in the thick of the criminal conspiracy, not only as witting and complicit, but as an active and guiding force.
So not only did Russia want to elect Trump, but WikiLeaks wanted to elect Trump. And they wanted to break the law to do it. What a coincidence!
Then there’s this: The criminal conspiracy was in full swing at the same time that people in the Trump campaign had been in contact with Russian conspirators. And if you’ll remember, it was around this time that Trump himself made a huge ask.
On July 27, 2016, Trump held a press conference in Florida, during which he famously asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton and find her missing emails. By that time, though, Russians had been dangling the prospect of this dirt in front of the Trump campaign for months. We know that Trump aide Papadopoulos, for instance, reported the possibility to the campaign after he spoke with Kremlin associates. And the Trump Tower meeting, held the month before Trump gave that press conference, was predicated on getting dirt on Clinton. Hours after that meeting, Trump tweeted about the missing emails.
It’s worth noting, then, that the indictment alleges that just hours after Trump’s press conference, the accused Russians tried for the first time to hack Clinton’s server directly. What a coincidence!
What we see here, and with the WikiLeaks request in the section above this, is a direct request met directly with a helpful Russian response. What better or more obvious evidence of collusion is there in this whole story than Donald Trump himself asking for criminal help from Russia, getting it, and knowingly using it? And then lying about it for two years.
Now look at this.
Throughout the campaign, a server belonging to Trump Tower had been communicating with two strange servers: One in Russia’s Alfa Bank (80% of the time); and one belonging to a Michigan-based healthcare company owned by Betsy DeVos’s husband. A computer scientist mapped out the patterns. He provided the graphic, and I’ve annotated the dates. You can see that here.
There’s one anomalous spike the day before the Trump Tower meeting: June 8. According to the indictment, the Russian operatives created the “DC Leaks” website that day, which was to be one of the outlets for spreading the hacked information. And there’s a huge spike around July 27, the day Trump requests the hack, and the day the Russians carry it out.
Or, tried to. They apparently failed: No one has published Clinton’s missing emails, despite Mike Flynn commissioning a GOP operative to try to get them from Russian hackers. Seems Clinton’s was the safest server of the bunch.
It’s important to remember that even though the indictment doesn’t specifically accuse any Americans or members of the campaign of knowingly taking part in this particular conspiracy, it also doesn’t rule out the possibility. In fact, it seems all but certain we’re going to see American names soon.
For instance, the indictment implies several connections between Americans and WikiLeaks, the organization that worked with Russia in the criminal conspiracy to publish the emails. See how this works? Not complicated: A to B to C to D to C to B to A. You won’t find a call from A to D (except Trump’s so dumb he made one on TV), but you’ll see information relayed through a series of cutouts. Longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone is somewhere in that cutout chain. He looks like this:
The indictment doesn’t name Stone, but it does name someone “regularly in contact with senior members of the Trump campaign.” Stone, who initially denied being the unnamed person, soon walked that back when it became obvious it was him. After all, the indictment quotes a question from Guccifer to Stone in a Twitter message that Stone had literally published on his website. Stone also was in direct contact with WikiLeaks — not just via an intermediary, a lie that Stone told Congress.
Look for Stone to be indicted next.
More explosively, though, and definitely more surprisingly, is this:
On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, received a request for stolen documents from a candidate for the U.S. Congress. The Conspirators responded using the Guccifer 2.0 persona and sent the candidate stolen documents related to the candidate’s opponent.
We don’t know who that candidate is by name, but Robert Mueller does. And if that person is currently serving, that means they’re likely running for re-election this November, and the American public deserve to know about any complicity in this crime.
If you care for some baseless speculation, I have an idea who it is.
The indictment says: “[the Russians] posing as Guccifer 2.0 transferred approximately 2.5 gigabytes of data stolen from the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] to a then-registered state lobbyist and online source of political news.”
This isn’t a mystery: The unnamed lobbyist is Florida GOP political consultant Aaron Nevins, who admitted last year that he got this information from Guccifer. Some of those documents contained information about a Democratic candidate in a Volusia County, Florida, election, an election GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis eventually won. DeSantis, along with other Florida GOP representatives, used Nevins as a consultant. More interestingly, DeSantis recently and acting alone proposed attaching an amendment to a House budget bill that would end the Mueller investigation.
DeSantis’s spokeswoman said he didn’t do it.
Last but not least, the indictment mentions that a journalist also interacted with Guccifer. Was it someone from the New York Failing Times? Fake News CNN? No: It was Lee Stranahan of Breitbart.
This is the investigation Trump calls a witch hunt. This is the investigation Trump fired Comey over, to as he put it ease “great pressure” on him. This is the attack Trump has called a Democrat “hoax” and “excuse for losing the election.”
Whatever your position on the likelihood that evidence will directly implicate Trump, you can’t say it’s a hoax. And you can’t say it’s an excuse.
It’s worth noting again that “collusion” isn’t a legal term. What we call collusion is in criminal law called “conspiracy,” and Mueller has charged this group of Russians with multiple counts of “conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States.” Manafort was charged with a similar crime.
And so at the end, we see Mueller had to make some choices about who to name and who to leave out, and why. It’s never been suggested that Americans or the Trump campaign carried out these specific hacks. However, the Trump campaign might very well be implicated in a related conspiracy with the Russians to use the information. If Mueller hands down such an indictment, the people named in it would face conspiracy charges like the ones listed here, or a conspiracy to break federal election laws. So far this hunt has indicted at least 32 people and three companies, including 26 Russian nationals, three Russian companies, one California man, one lawyer from the U.K., and four former Trump advisers. Five of them, three of them former campaign officials, have pled guilty and are currently cooperating with investigators.