By Sophie Smith
“However, when it comes to humanitarian causes, there should be no question of the rest of the world giving aid, security, or at the very least attention.”
On Feb 16, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein held a press conference in which he explained the Department of Justice’s recent indictments of Russian nationals. The indictments, which charge thirteen Russian individuals and three companies, are a step forward in Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The accused have been charged with bank and wire fraud, as well as aggravated identity theft.
While this is indeed important news, is it really surprising? Suspicions that Russia interfered with American democracy have existed since last January, when a report was released that said U.S. intelligence has “high confidence” the Kremlin tried “to undermine public faith in the US democratic process.” The indictments are a statement to Russia, letting the country’s leaders know the U.S. is aware and disapproving of the meddling, though this holds little weight since Russian nationals cannot be tried in U.S. courts.
Instead, the part of Rosenstein’s address I find to be most significant is his statement that there is “no allegation in this indictment that any American had any knowledge” of the Russians’ meddling. It’s true that investigations like this need to be drawn-out and deliberate — releasing information too early and without substantial factual support could be detrimental to the investigation, not to mention unethical. Perhaps the investigation will eventually reach those at the top of the White House, including Trump himself, and investigators are just unwilling to share their plans just yet.
But it has been over a year since the investigation began, and there have yet to be any developments that prove Trump’s administration participated in Russia’s meddling. So far, revelations have been spread-out and relatively negligible. There is a handful of guilty members of the Trump campaign and transition team: so far, five people associated with Trump have pleaded guilty to various crimes, most notably Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI about contact with the former Russian ambassador.
Yet, so far there is no evidence that these individuals were working to get Trump elected, but rather just to advance their own self-interests in their involvement with Russia. Right now, Paul Manafort, the former chairman of Trump’s campaign, is facing pressure from the Department of Justice for his connections with the former president of Ukraine. Investigators believe Manafort illegally received millions from working as a lobbyist for the Ukrainian president’s political party. Manafort has allegedly been spending this untaxed income on his lavish lifestyle back in the States.
It certainly appears that characters like Manafort participated in illegal activities with Russia and its affiliates, but their motives seem to be exclusively personal. This network of dark money, no matter how disconcerting it is about the current state of U.S. leadership, does not prove there was an organized operation between Russia and the entire Trump campaign.
My opinion on the matter is perhaps a controversial one: I do not think Donald Trump had anything to do with Russian collusion. He isn’t politically savvy enough to have spearheaded — or even to have participated in — such a massive operation, and I find it unlikely he would have left so few tracks that Mueller’s investigation has yet to uncover any proof of his involvement.
Further evidence that Trump was not directly involved in the Russian meddling can be found by examining the acts of those meddlers. Last week’s indictments accuse certain Russians of posing as Americans on social media, posting divisive material and organizing rallies across the country. Many of the social media posts did not mention Donald Trump, instead just sharing points similar to his campaign platforms.
One example, posted by the fake Facebook account “Stop A.I,” included a photo of three women wearing burqas, disturbingly begging viewers to “Like and share if you want burqa banned in America.” Other accounts created posts in support of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein. No evidence has been found that Russians colluded with either campaign.
Several rallies these fake accounts advertised were anti-Trump, like the DC event “Support Hillary, Save American Muslims” and “Charlotte Against Trump” in Virginia. While the Russians likely wanted to help elect Trump, it appears their main goal was to instill disunity among Americans.
Putin wants to assert his political power in the world, and part of doing so means diminishing the sanctity of western democracies. If he can portray countries like the U.S. as disunited and tumultuous, his own country will look stronger by comparison.
Robert Mueller’s investigation is indeed gaining ground and it is still possible future developments will find senior members of the Trump administration, perhaps even the president himself, guilty of Russian collusion. But for now it appears this was just a Russian-devised scheme designed to wreak havoc on American democracy. Donald Trump is only a pawn in someone else’s game.