Another round of indictments in the Russia probe was handed down Friday afternoon by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into Russian interference in our 2016 presidential election.
This is welcome news. At least someone is doing something about Russian meddling in American politics.
Thirteen individuals and three Russian companies are accused of conspiracy and running "interference operations targeting the United States" and illegally trying to disrupt the American political process.
The 37-page indictment states the defendants "had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, defendants' operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump ["Trump Campaign"] and disparaging Hillary Clinton."
Beginning in 2014, the 13 indicted individuals conspired to violate American laws that prohibit foreigners from spending money to influence federal elections in the U.S. The foreigners posed as American citizens, stole identities and otherwise engaged in fraud and deceit in an effort to influence our political process, according to court papers.
President Trump, of course, immediately tweeted that the indictments accused neither him nor his campaign of wrongdoing: "no collusion!" he wrote. And he said partisan rancor in our politics made room for "bad actors, like Russia," to sow discord.
Imagine: President Trump accusing another politician of partisan rancor. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
As for "no collusion," we hope — for America's sake — that Trump is right.
But time will tell, and we won't hold our breath.
In a separate indictment filed Friday by Mueller, an American in Santa Paula, Calif., was charged with identity fraud, involving bank account numbers sold over the internet. According to court papers filed with that indictment, some of the American's customers are foreigners who are targets of the Mueller probe. The American has pleaded guilty and is cooperating, court documents show.
Note: Trump on Friday didn't say the "Russia thing" was a "hoax. He didn't call it "fake news." But, hey, there's a long weekend stretching ahead of us.
The Mueller indictments lay a strong foundation, and paint a picture of "a very sophisticated, well-funded, three-year-long scheme designed in part to put President Trump in the White House," according to The New York Times.
The Internet Research Agency operated in St. Petersburg with an annual budget in the millions and was the hub. Some of the Russians who posed as Americans worked on "the Translator Project" and, according to the indictment, "communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign and other political activists."
Some of those in the conspiracy traveled to and around the U.S., visiting at least eight states. They worked with an unidentified American, according to court documents. That person advised them to focus their efforts on what they viewed as "purple" election battleground states, including Colorado, Virginia and Florida, the indictment states.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller's probe, said in a Friday news conference that the conspiracy continued even after the election. Still striving to sow discord, Russians began staging political rallies both for and against President-elect Trump, sometimes on the same day.
The Russians also paid for political advertisements, some you might recall parroted by Trump supporters. "Hillary is a Satan, and her crimes and lies had proved just how evil she is," one advertisement stated.
Feel duped? You should. We all should.
We also should be asking why our president still has not acted — now past the deadline — on the law Congress passed overwhelmingly last summer to sanction Russia for meddling in the election. Instead, Trump has done nothing to punish Russia.
We should be asking why the heads of our six top intelligence agencies told Congress earlier this week that they'd had no direction from the president about Russia's meddling or any need to stop it.
We should be asking why Trump is struck dumb about Russia meddling.
Collusion or no, our president's silence is thunderous.