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Indictments deflate Trump’s claim that Russian meddling was a hoax

By Alex Wayne and Margaret Talev • Feb 18, 2018 at 12:00 PM

WASHINGTON –– Donald Trump has insisted for more than a year that Russians didn’t try to get him elected. Special counsel Robert Mueller put an end to those claims on Friday, declaring definitively that they did.

A federal grand jury indicted 13 Russian nationals and a “troll farm” in St. Petersburg, Russia, alleging a broad campaign to sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favor. The indictment alleges that the operation was funded with $1.25 million a month by companies controlled by a Russian businessman close to the Kremlin.

The indictment means that Trump can no longer credibly cast doubt on alleged Russian election meddling. And if he was still harboring dreams of firing Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, something many Republicans have warned against, doing so may be politically impossible.

The White House seized on Rosenstein’s declaration that Friday’s indictment didn’t allege “that any American had any knowledge” of the Russian interference, declaring “NO COLLUSION” in a statement. But the special counsel is still investigating whether Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russians, a person familiar with the matter said.

The indictment reverberated from the White House and Congress across foreign policy and diplomatic circles. It represents a fundamental shift. The U.S. intelligence community’s assertions that Russia interfered in the election, based on classified evidence never revealed to the public, was easily dismissed by Trump and his allies. Now there are concrete charges that Russians defrauded the U.S. government, with memos and other evidence to back up the allegations.

Trump seemed to recognize the changed landscape himself.

In a Twitter post, he acknowledged a Russian “anti-U.S. campaign,” and in the White House statement he called the country a “bad actor.” He has previously –– and frequently –– described allegations of Russian meddling in the election as “a hoax.”

His lawyers complimented Mueller in statements, though they used the past tense ––“did” –– to describe his work, suggesting optimism that the investigation has concluded.

It has not. Rosenstein, at his news conference, said nothing about future indictments.

Rosenstein said the indictment does not allege “that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Trump’s political stature is entwined with the narrative he has built that Mueller’s investigation is a “witch hunt” precipitated by Democrats.

“No, Russia did not help me, that I can tell you,” Trump told supporters at an Alabama political rally in September. “Any Russians in the audience? I don’t see too many Russians.”

He’s also repeatedly cited personal assurances from Russian President Vladimir Putin in maintaining his skepticism.

“Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,”’ Trump said after a November meeting with Putin in Vietnam. “And I believe –– I really believe –– that when he tells me that, he means it. I think he’s very insulted by it, if you want to know the truth.”


(Toluse Olorunnipa and Chris Strohm contributed to this report.)


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