Far from being rattled, Mr. Trump was elated, according to his advisers, because he viewed it as evidence that Mr. Mueller now knows who the malefactors are — and they do not include him or members of his team. (The indictment refers to campaign officials who met or communicated with Russians, but says they were “unwitting.”)The Mueller indictment boils down to this: An internet troll farm in St. Petersburg, the Internet Research Agency, ran a three-year social media campaign to "sow discord" in the American electorate and undermine confidence in Hillary Clinton. According to Matt Apuzzo and Sharon LaFraniere in "13 Russians Indicted as Mueller Reveals Effort to Aid Trump Campaign":
The Russian nationals were accused of working with the Internet Research Agency, which had a budget of millions of dollars and was designed to reach millions of Americans. The defendants were charged with carrying out a massive fraud against the American government and conspiring to obstruct enforcement of federal laws.
Their tasks included undermining Mrs. Clinton by supporting her Democratic primary campaign rival, Bernie Sanders, prosecutors said. Those instructions were detailed in internal documents: “Use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump — we support them).” Mr. Mueller identified 13 digital advertisements paid for by the Russian operation. All of them attacked Mrs. Clinton or promoted Mr. Trump.With the above -- Trump elation combined with the indictment's quantification of 13 digital ads funded by an ambiguous "budget of millions" -- we have all we need to know that this indictment is bullshit.
The "budget of millions" is the strong tell. The indictment states that the Internet Research Agency's entire annual budget "totaled the equivalent of millions of U.S. dollars."
But we're not talking about the entire Internet Research Agency, which has many departments with different tasks; we're only talking about one ad hoc department allegedly created in the spring of 2014 to engage in "information warfare" in the United States, the "translator project." The indictment states that by July 2016 more than 80 employees were assigned to "translator project."
But being assigned to something doesn't mean that you're actually doing any work. Where's the quantification?
To provide that quantification, the indictment does a little fudging. It stops talking about "translator project" and starts talking about "Project Lakhta":
Project Lakhta had multiple components, some involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation and others targeting foreign audiences in various countries, including the United States.
By in or around September 2016, the ORGANIZATION's [Internet Research Agency] monthly budget for Project Lakhta submitted to CONCORD [company owned by Kremlin-friendly mogul Yevgeny V. Prigozhin] exceed 73 million Russian rubles (over 1,250,000 U.S dollars), including approximately one million rubles in bonus payments.So we have 80 workers assigned to something called the "translator project," which is waging info war within the U.S. by means of social medium. Then we have something call "Project Lakhta," which is an all-points-of-compass info-war campaign, targeting audiences both domestic and foreign. The indictment states that Project Lakhta's monthly budget is $1.25 million.
Look what this becomes in the NYT editorial:
By the spring of 2016, the operation had zeroed in on supporting Mr. Trump and disparaging Hillary Clinton. The Internet Research Agency alone had a staff of 80 and a monthly budget of $1.25 million. On the advice of a real, unnamed grass-roots activist from Texas, it had focused its efforts on swing states like Colorado, Virginia and Florida.
Staffers bought ads with messages like “Hillary is a Satan,” “Ohio Wants Hillary 4 Prison” and “Vote Republican, Vote Trump, and support the Second Amendment!”The "newspaper of record" can't even keep this straight. The passage regarding the "unnamed grass-roots activist in Texas" is particularly embarrassing. According to Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti, "Inside a 3-Year Russian Campaign to Influence U.S. Voters":
The Russian operatives contacted, among others, a real Texas activist who, evidently assuming they were Americans, advised them to focus on “purple states like Colorado, Virginia & Florida.” After that, F.B.I. agents found that the phrase “purple states” became a mantra for the Russian operation.So we're supposed to believe that secret Russian agents traveled all the way to the Lone Star State in order to discover the philosopher's stone of U.S. electioneering -- purple states?
Are we really that stupid?
The obvious thing about the indictment is included the Shane and Mazzetti story: There is no mention of the hack of the DNC, nor of Podesta's Gmail account:
Mr. Mueller’s indictment does not present evidence that the campaign overseen by Mr. Prigozhin was ordered by Mr. Putin. American officials have traced other elements of the Russian meddling, notably the hacking and leaking of leading Democrats’ emails, to Russian intelligence agencies carrying out Mr. Putin’s orders.
While the indictment certainly undermines Mr. Trump’s blanket assertions that the Russian interference is a political “hoax,” it does not accuse anyone from his campaign or any other American of knowingly aiding in the effort.No connection to the Russian government; no collusive tie to the Trump campaign. Caitlin Johnstone does a good job collecting frantic Democratic tweets in her post "Insane Anti-Trumpists Call For Even More Escalations Against A Nuclear Superpower."
Another obvious thing about the indictment, which is mentioned by Apuzzo and LaFraniere, is that this kind of background info war is stock and trade of the U.S. government:
Such anecdotes are rare examples of how intelligence agencies work covertly to influence political outcomes abroad. The C.I.A. has conducted such operations for decades, but both Mr. Mueller’s indictment and an intelligence assessment last year present a startling example — unprecedented in its scope and audacity — of a foreign government [the indictment doesn't name a foreign government -- sloppy editing] working to help elect an American president.I imagine all governments employ these kind of private-sector contractors to test messaging and fiddle about in their neighbors' affairs. Russia has promised to expose U.S. meddling in its upcoming presidential election. What is Navalny's presidential boycott campaign if not a U.S. intelligence operation?
The Democrats are headed into the midterms with their dirigible deflating. They will try to keep the New Cold War inflated at all costs. Judging from CBS News "Key Takeaways," it is going to be a lot of effort for not much return. Russiagate has been deflating for months. It has required periodic scare headlines to refocus the citizenry's wandering attention.
Even though Democrats have real, powerful issues with which to mobilize their base -- gun safety and immigration, to name but two -- this is a party that has a visceral aversion to reality. Their cry will be for Trump to slap even more sanctions on Russia, to lock in the New Cold War, to guarantee the New McCarthyism will determine the Democratic nominee, which will assure Trump's reelection. That is how self-destructively stupid the power brokers of the Democratic Party are. Rather than fight to win, they choose to lose so that they can retain power in the organization.