I think the indictment is silly. Russia meddled in our presidential election by spreading disinformation in order to erode faith in our democracy and, let’s assume, in the hope of influencing the outcome. Why wouldn’t it? Russia is our adversary, despite Barack Obama’s denial of this reality during much of his administration.
Russia/the Soviet Union has long tried to influence our politics, as have other adversaries. The U.S. too has often tried to influence the politics of other nations. (If we aren’t employing underhanded methods to influence political outcomes in adversary nations, shame on us). Indeed, it’s possible to infer from the indictment that Russia’s interference campaign, which began in 2014, was retaliation for our interference in Ukrainian politics that year.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t respond to Russian interference. The question is how to respond.
The primary response should be to take preventative measures. The most important such measure is to ensure the integrity of our voting procedures — i.e., to make sure Russia and others don’t mess up our vote count. Preventing hacking of our political parties and operatives is also important. I don’t believe the Russian hacking in 2016 was very consequential because nothing in the Podesta and DNC emails can plausibly be viewed as meaningful to voters. However, we may not always be that lucky.
Preventing Russians from sneaking into the free-for-all of our political discourse strikes me as both extremely difficult and unnecessary. There is so much garbage — so many lies, libels, crazy conspiracy theories and so much vicious invective — in the rough-and-tumble world of political social media that Russia’s contribution will always likely be inconsequential. There are so many political rallies that Russian sponsorship of a few will always be virtually meaningless (especially where, as here, some of the “Russian” rallies are for one candidate and some are against him/her).
Surely, Russian efforts were inconsequential in 2016. As John noted, at the height of the presidential campaign, the Russia campaign budget was only $1,250,000 per month. This pales in comparison to what the major candidates and their parties were spending. It isn’t enough to turn even a close election. Suggesting that Russia’s efforts affected the outcome of this election is like saying that dropping a bucket of water into the sea affected the tide.
In any event, what’s the point of indicting Russians over whom we have no jurisdiction? Doing so serves no apparent preventative or punitive purpose. If we want to deter or punish Russian interference, we can step up our interference in Russian politics, impose more sanctions, and/or take positions adverse to Russia on matters important to it. Each of these approaches imposes pain. This indictment does not.
I think this latest instance of “lawfare” just makes us look weak and foolish. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kremlin is having a laugh about it. Not as nearly as big a laugh, though, as the one it’s having over the disruption of the Trump administration that the seemingly baseless Russia collusion story has produced.
Because there appears to be no chance of bringing the Russians in question to justice, I can’t help but suspect that Mueller’s indictment is about justifying the existence of a special counsel. It may also be about cementing his position. Allahpundit suggests it may be more difficult for President Trump to sack Mueller now that he has indicted Russians because doing so might cause some to believe, absurdly, that he is protecting Russia.
Here’s what the indictment is not about: it’s not about responding seriously to Russian interference in the 2016 election.
UPDATE: Andy McCarthy presents a similar view of the indictment in a column called “Russia Launches ‘Information’ War, U.S. Responds with Lawsuit and Self-Destruction.”