The Russian interference itself is beyond doubt. The Mueller investigation has led to two guilty pleas and two indictments so far, and it must continue.
President Donald Trump and U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes have been muddying the waters of the Russia investigation, so let’s try to clarify those waters so that they’re as clear as vodka.
Here are a dozen things we know.
1. Russia interfered in the U.S. election. The U.S. intelligence community concluded that President Vladimir Putin had “a clear preference” for Trump and “ordered an influence campaign” to hurt Hillary Clinton. The Department of Homeland Security notified 21 states that Russian hackers (mostly unsuccessfully) had targeted their election systems before the 2016 election.
Russia oversaw an online campaign using fake American accounts to spread anti-Clinton messages. Twitter found that 50,000 Russian accounts fired off 2.1 million election-related tweets in the fall of 2016, and in the final weeks around the election accounted for 4.25 percent of retweets of Trump’s own account.
2. Trump has long-standing business interests in Russia. The New York Times has explored these, beginning with a trip to Moscow in 1987 to try to build a hotel there. As recently as 2013 on another Moscow visit he was still optimistic, tweeting “TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next,” but the buildings have never come to fruition.
More successfully, Trump has attracted murky investments from Russia, raising speculation that Russia might have gained some leverage over him. A Russian oligarch paid Trump an eyebrow-raising $95 million for one Florida property. A Reuters investigation found that people with Russian addresses or passports had invested nearly $100 million in seven Trump properties in southern Florida.
“I know the Russians better than anybody,” Trump boasted in 2014.
3. Trump has consistently displayed a soft spot for Putin. At various times, Trump has described Putin as “so nice,” “so smart” and doing “an amazing job.” Trump defended Putin from allegations that he interfered in elections and killed journalists. “You think our country is so innocent?” he scoffed. Trump told another interviewer, “I think our country does plenty of killing also.”
4. Trump picked people with ties to Russia. He named as a foreign policy adviser Carter Page, who was investigated by the FBI as far back as 2013 for possible ties to Russian intelligence (Page denies any wrongdoing). To run his campaign, Trump selected Paul Manafort, who had long experience working for Russian interests and once wrote a memo offering a plan to “greatly benefit the Putin Government.” Trump’s aides also tweaked the Republican Party platform in a way that would please Moscow.
5. Russia confided in the Trump campaign. In April 2016, the Russians told George Papadopoulos, another Trump foreign policy adviser, that they had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” It’s not clear what Papadopoulos did with that information.
6. Trump aides secretly met with Russians. In June 2016, Russia offered the Trump campaign “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary.” Instead of calling the FBI, Donald Trump Jr. responded, “I love it,” and arranged a meeting with the Russians and top campaign officials.
7. A Trump ally secretly communicated with a Russian mouthpiece. In August 2016, Trump ally Roger Stone communicated with Guccifer 2.0, believed to be an outlet for Russian military intelligence. Separately, Stone tweeted that “it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in a barrel”; seven weeks later, WikiLeaks began releasing emails Russia had hacked from John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman.
8. … more secret contacts. WikiLeaks, presumably representing Russian interests, engaged in secret correspondence with Donald Trump Jr.
9. Kushner met a Putin ally. Jared Kushner met with a Russian, Sergey Gorkov, who is close to Putin, in December 2016. Kushner also privately asked the Russians about using Russian equipment to establish a secret communications channel to the Kremlin.
10. Trump aides falsely denied contacts. Campaign officials denied innumerable times that there had been any contact with Russia. “Of course not,” said Mike Pence shortly before the inauguration. “Why would there be any contacts?”
Good question. In fact, there were at least 51 such contacts, including 19 face-to-face interactions, by the count of CNN.
11. Russia is still at it. Russian bots are joining Trump supporters in tweeting hashtags like #MAGA and #FullOfSchiff. These same Russian bots are promoting Fox News links that disparage the Russia investigation.
12. This is not normal!
Actually, I doubt that there was anything so straightforward as a secret quid pro quo. Indeed, some of these links are so blatant that they seem confusingly exculpatory: Why would anybody conspiring with Putin raise suspicions by publicly praising him?
Yet the Russian interference itself is beyond doubt. The Mueller investigation has led to two guilty pleas and two indictments so far, and it must continue. Frankly, it’s suspicious that Trump is throwing up so much dust and trying so hard to delegitimize the investigation.
He is not acting innocent.