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The conservative press was abuzz over the indictment of 13 Russians for election interference announced on Friday as part of Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Multiple outlets seized on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s statement in a press conference that the indictment did not contain allegations of American collusion with the individuals being charged. This does not preclude the possibility that additional charges may be filed against Americans in the near future. Nevertheless, the Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro claimed that the takeaway from the indictment is that “supposed Trump–Russia collusion doesn’t seem to exist.”
“Collusion only counts if you know you’re soliciting help from foreign sources,” he wrote. “Those involved with the Trump campaign apparently didn’t. That blows a rather large hole in the theory that the Russians were working hand-in-glove with Trump campaign officials.”
Hot Air’s Allahpundit highlighted a section of the indictment stating that some defendants “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign:
If Trump’s associates were “unwitting,” i.e. unaware that they were cooperating with Russians, what’s left of “collusion”? Maybe there’s a charge to be uncorked if Team Trump didn’t know it was talking to Russians but did believe that it was talking to other people who’d obtained the DNC and Podesta emails, like Wikileaks. The hacking is an underlying crime here, irrespective of whether the people responsible were foreign or domestic actors. But typically under U.S. law it’s not a crime to receive information that you’re not legally allowed to access, only to steal it in the first place. That’s why leakers can be imprisoned but the reporters to whom they pass their info can’t. If Team Trump coordinated with people who possessed the hacked emails in order to release them at critical moments during the campaign, is that in itself a crime? I’d guess not.
Many also made hay of the indictment’s listing of faux pro-Hillary groups and social media posts put together by Russians. “Mueller’s indictment confirms what legal representatives for both Facebook and Twitter told a Senate panel on Oct. 31 last year: that Russian operatives sought to harm America by undermining public confidence in President Trump’s election,” the Daily Caller’s Peter Hasson wrote. “Russian operatives also sought to promote the left-wing identity politics that currently dominate the Democratic Party, previous reporting has shown. One Russian account promoted a militant, left-wing form of feminism, similar to the kind pushed by Women’s March organizers.”
Similarly, the Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft highlighted pro-Hillary groups and events put together by Russians. “In the indictment Mueller and his team of far left attorneys and Obama supporters claim Russia used the internet to push ads that were in support of Donald Trump for president,” he wrote. “That is not accurate. That is a deep state lie. Several of these online groups were pro-Hillary and even HELD RALLIES for Hillary. United Muslims of America was NOT pro-Trump.” What the indictment actually claims is that the Russians named were engaged in efforts to “interfere with elections and political processes,” which, while involving social media activity on the behalf of a variety of candidates and causes, centered around support for Trump “by early to mid 2016.”
“The interference seems aimed at bolstering what all of us thought were the LEAST LIKELY candidates in the primary: Trump, Sanders, Stein. The Russians attacked Cruz and Rubio and other GOP candidates as well as Clinton. After the election they helped organize anti-Trump rallies,” the RedState blogger Streiff wrote. “More importantly, there is no evidence here that there was any coherent strategy–or that they really knew what they were doing–beyond garden variety trolling.”
On his show, Rush Limbaugh dismissed the indictment, arguing that what the Russians are accused of doing is no different from other political advocacy on social media:
You know what’s amazing, the number of Americans in social media trying to affect the outcome of the election is in the millions. You get my point here. Why are they doing it? They’re attempting to sabotage one candidate and elect another. And both sides. Trump supporters are trying to sabotage Hillary on social media, visa versa. And yet the Russians are portrayed here as the only ones doing it and it was so bad we have to indict them. The Russians weren’t doing anything that’s not being done by others, including Americans.
And I can’t stand this idea watching these cable news people act like this is the epitome of offensive outrage and behavior. Can you believe what the Russians were doing? Give me a break, can you believe what the Russians were doing. This is what has become of the internet in many ways. This is exactly how social media has used for a long time, long before the 2016 election came along.
Hours before the release of the indictment, National Review’s Jonah Goldberg had admonished the self-avowed nationalists on the right for not taking Russia’s interference seriously:
I’m confused. These days, “nationalism” is all the rage on the right. I put it in quotes because there are a lot of different ideas of what nationalism means. Some of it is just rah-rah “U.S.A. No. 1” sloganeering. For others, nationalism is basically code for white-identity politics.
[…][I]t is now an accepted fact that the Russian government attempted to meddle in our elections and is planning on doing so again in 2018 and beyond. Members of the Trump administration, with the notable exception of the president himself, are unequivocally blunt about this. But where is the outrage from the nationalist caucus? To be fair, National Review has issued stern editorials. But most of the rah-rah nationalists on cable, talk radio, and social media have been remarkably blasé about it, more interested in Hillary Clinton’s misdeeds than those of a contemptuous foreign power.
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