Mueller’s Blockbuster Indictment

With the special counsel’s latest indictment, Americans are one step closer to knowing the truth of what happened during the 2016 election.

Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rosenstein announces indictments in special counsel Mueller's Russia investigation. (Leah Mills / Reuters )

About the author: Paul Rosenzweig is a principal at Red Branch Consulting. From 2005 to 2009 he was the deputy assistant secretary for policy of the Department of Homeland Security, overseeing the U.S. Secret Service. He teaches cybersecurity at the George Washington University Law School. Twenty years ago, he served as a senior counsel in the investigation of President Bill Clinton.

It’s always on Fridays. Almost like clockwork, each new indictment from the Special Counsel’s office released on a Friday afternoon, just in time to disrupt the weekend news cycle. Not that anyone is complaining, because this week’s indictment is a blockbuster—an 11-count indictment of 12 Russian military officers alleging that they engaged in a hacking campaign against Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

All 12 of the officers are said to be members of the GRU—the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Army. When you think of them, imagine, if you will, colonels and lieutenants in America’s Defense Intelligence Agency and you have a rough equivalent. They are said to have stolen gigabytes of information, released it to the public through false personas, given it to one unnamed organization (which is almost certainly WikiLeaks) for disclosure, and tried to cover their tracks.

What to make of this indictment? Well, with the caveat that these are only allegations that only reflect evidence presented to a grand jury (and thus, not yet proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a trial), there is probable cause for the following conclusions:

First, Vladimir Putin has told the President that the Russian government did not interfere in the American elections. Putin is lying—plain and simple. There are no circumstances under which an arm of the Russian military would undertake an information operation of this sort without approval from the highest levels. American intelligence agencies had earlier made this point in a conclusory way—now it appears to be true. President Trump has previously seemed to accept Putin’s disclaimer of a role—how he will react to these latest revelations in the run-up to Monday’s summit with Putin is anyone’s guess.

Second, none of these Russian officers is ever going to stand trial. The chances that Russia will extradite them to the United States are precisely zero. Though the chance that they might be lured out of Russia is possibly a tiny fraction higher it is also, for all intents and purposes zero. The special counsel’s team must know this. Thus, the main purpose of this indictment is informational—it is, in effect, a report to the American people on what they have found. For those few Americans who remain persuadable by evidence, the details set forth in the indictment should be determinative.

Third, these forensic details are stunning, and the import of their publication is far broader that the verisimilitude they lend to the allegations. At a minimum, the level of detail here makes it difficult to deny the truth of what they assert. Take but one example—the question of the identity of Guccifer 2.0. Guccifer 2.0 was an on-line persona who claimed to be behind the hack of the Democrat emails. He also claimed he was not a Russian but rather an independent Romanian hacker. The evidence of the indictment, linking web searches by the Russian conspirators to posts by Guccifer 2.0 is damning indeed.

But perhaps more saliently, the level of detail suggests that the veil of anonymity that has long protected hackers is slowly being torn apart. The forensic information here (doubtless sourced from the intelligence community) makes it clear that, with enough time and effort, the chances of penetrating a secret operation are much higher than they have been in the past. That’s a good thing for American counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence operations, but it is not necessarily a good thing for social or political dissent—especially not that in authoritarian Russia.

Fourth, Wikileaks is revealed to be, at best, a pawn of Russian intelligence and at worst part of a coordinated Russian operation. Wikileaks affirmatively solicited DNC material from Guccifer 2.0, and scheduled its release immediately before the Democratic National Convention, in an effort to harm the Clinton campaign. If they knew that Guccifer 2.0 was a Russian operative, they were willing participants; if they did not then they were dupes. Either way, anyone who continues to take Wikileaks seriously as a journalism outlet strains credulity. Their anti-America and anti-Clinton bias is demonstrable.

Finally, Trump adviser Roger Stone is in a great deal of trouble and the specter of “collusion” is more real now than it has been in the past. Stone, who the indictment describes as “in regular contact with senior members of the [Trump] presidential campaign” was also in regular contact with Guccifer 2.0, now known to be the front for Russian intelligence. Stone had previously given conflicting statements about the state of his knowledge as to Guccifer 2.0’s identity, and about what, if anything, he did with information he may or may not have received. But the indictment now puts Stone’s actions squarely in focus and will, undoubtedly, result in more scrutiny of his conduct by prosecutors.

Moreover, the indictment also alleges that the Russian attempt to hack the Clinton campaign’s emails began, quite literally, on the very day that Trump publicly asked the Russians to find Hillary’s missing emails. This may well be nothing more than a case of conscious parallelism, but when combined with the Stone allegations, it is yet another strand of evidence suggesting actual contact and collaboration between Trump supporters and the Russians.

And one bonus truth—there is at least one congressional candidate who also is in trouble. The indictment alleges that Guccifer 2.0 received a request for stolen DNC documents from a candidate for U.S. Congress. Who, it doesn’t say. But the inference is that this is post-primary, so it must have been the Republican opponent of a Democratic candidate—someone who may well be a sitting Congressman today. That’s another thread that will be pulled by the public over the coming days.

When appointed last year, the special counsel was specifically tasked with investigating the extent to which Russia attempted to manipulate and interfere with the American electoral system. With this indictment Americans are one step closer to knowing the truth of what happened.