Yesterday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian organizations as a result of the ongoing investigation conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The indictment shows that the clear intent of their actions was to undermine the 2016 presidential election and to favor the election of Donald Trump. (Read the full 37 page indictment here.) The indictment details how the Russians conducted “information warfare against the United States of America.” This was no fly-by-night operation as the core entity, Internet Research Agency, had at least 80 full-time employees and a monthly budget of approximately 73 million Russian rubles a month (about 1.25 million dollars a month).
According to the indictment, the purpose of the covert Russian activity, which included putting undercover Russian operatives in the United States, was to engage “in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.” Once the nominees were selected, the operation focused solely on supporting Mr. Trump and denigrating Mrs. Clinton, including active efforts to discourage possible Clinton supporters from voting for her by spreading false and misleading information.
The Internet Research Agency had hundreds of additional support employees (trolls and other social media experts) beyond the core 80 and included a graphics department, a data analysis department, a search-engine optimization department, an IT department and a finance department. It was organized with branch heads and assigned duties. Very sophisticated.
Ultimately the operation’s interference in the 2016 election was not limited to social media or cyberspace. They also played “dirty tricks” at campaign rallies, organized their own rallies and otherwise put out derogatory and inflammatory information. For example, in the indictment it states that at one such event they tried to promote the idea that Mrs. Clinton was pro-Muslim by convincing an unaware American citizen to carry a sign “depicting Clinton and a quote attributed to her stating ‘I think Sharia Law will be a powerful new direction of Freedom.'” They also bought ads on Facebook and other sources claiming that Mrs. Clinton committed “voter fraud” amplifying one of Mr. Trump’s constant refrains. And more.
But you can read the indictment for yourself.
Here’s the rub.
What is the President of the United States doing to protect our country from a sophisticated asymmetrical attack on our homeland? So far? Nothing.
As the NY Times says, Mr. Trump’s “conspicuous silence” is a clear lack of leadership. His only reaction as of this writing is to tweet that “Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!” It’s only about him — not the nation or our security. Oh by the way, how do you think the Russians and other adversaries around the world view his response? One word. Weak.
There are many factual errors in his tweet, among them the fact that the indictment said nothing about whether there was or was not collusion — a totally separate issue from this one — and the start date also has nothing to do with the activities of the Russians or the fact that they favored Mr. Trump and actively worked to get him elected.
(As and aside, for all you conspiracy theorists out there, Mr. Trump visited Moscow in 2013. Is it not conceivable that he conspired with the Russians then to aid an upcoming presidential campaign? Even though he had not announced it publicly? Or maybe the Russians blackmailed him into running with the express purpose of undermining U.S. democracy and attempting to install him in the White House? The operatives arrived in 2014 because it takes time to set up an effective covert operation, integrate into the community, establish ties and learn the lay of the land before Mr. Trump announced his candidacy in 2015. But then, I am not a conspiracy theorist.)
Here’s my real point.
Where is the outrage? Where is the United States’ response to a clear and present danger? What are we doing to punish the Russians for this grievous attempt to undermine our democracy? No outrage from the administration. No warnings to Russia. Gosh, the president refuses to implement sanctions against Russia already overwhelmingly approved by bipartisan votes in both the House and the Senate last summer. What is wrong with him? Will he continue to call the Russian involvement a “hoax” perpetrated by the Democrats as he has consistently and constantly done? Apparently so, if the statements coming from his press office today are any indication.
Remember that this is only one area of the Special Counsel’s investigation. Still to come is the result of investigations into the hacking of the Democratic National Committee; the hacking of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails; a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower which Mr. Trump Jr. thought would deliver “dirt” on Mrs. Clinton; and the guilty pleas of Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, and another campaign adviser. Mr. Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates have been indicted. Not to mention possible obstruction of justice charges. There is a lot going on for a “hoax.” Additionally, just because there is no allegation made in one indictment does not mean that it won’t be made in other ones in the future. If one saw or reads Mr. Rosenstein’s announcement releasing the indictments, he was very, very careful in his wording. To me he seemed to be signalling that just because no campaign or other U.S. officials were named in this indictment, it does not mean that there will not be some in other indictments yet to come.
Again. Read the indictment. Decide for yourself. I find it to be dereliction of duty by the Commander-in-Chief if the United States does not respond to this attack by the Russians. I am trying to give the president the benefit of the doubt thinking that maybe a response is being planned even as I write this. I hope so. However, even if the administration is planning such a response, one would rightly expect a clear, precise and strongly worded statement from the president condemning the Russian activity by now. It is discouraging to note that this administration has yet to hold even one cabinet level meeting or even one inter-agency task force meeting to address the issue. Just this week, all of the heads of our intelligence agencies testified before Congress that the Russians were still trying to disrupt our democracy and would surely attempt to disrupt the 2018 and 2020 elections. And we do nothing.
Where is the outrage? More importantly, where is the action to combat an attack by the Russians?