WASHINGTON – Last Friday, depending on which side of the partisan divide one was watching from, President Trump was either vindicated or his treachery was confirmed. The impetus for these seemingly disparate reactions was Robert Mueller’s indictment against 13 Russian nationals, the latest and largest indictment to result from his investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. However, over the nine months that Mueller’s investigation has been active, it has continuously grown from its original purpose of investigating Russian collusion, expanding to include the business dealings of Trump and his inner circle with countries ranging from Qatar to China, meaning that the probe is no longer expressly about Russian collusion.
The drift of focus from its original purpose — as well as its failure to produce any connection between the Trump campaign, the Russian government, and the leaks of DNC and John Podesta’s emails — has led critics who place themselves outside of the left-right paradigm to treat this latest indictment with skepticism. Not only that, but concerns have been raised that the real purpose of Mueller’s probe is much more subtle and nefarious than publicly admitted and that it may itself be a threat to American democracy.
One such critic is Daniel McAdams, political analyst and executive director of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. McAdams, in an interview with MintPress News, stated that the Mueller indictment “has something for everybody,” explaining the strikingly different reactions from the establishment left and right. However, McAdams noted that the indictment was especially helpful to the “entire political class in Washington,” which may now “continue with its Cold War 2.0 project” without interference from anyone in favor of normalizing U.S.-Russian relations. In addition, McAdams warned that the recent indictment is likely to have a “chilling effect on the First Amendment,” also a boon to those elements of the political elite that seek to limit the acceptable range of debate on U.S. foreign policy.
A “show” indictment with something for everybody
The indictment released last Friday really did have “something for everybody,” as McAdams noted. The indictment itself details an effort by Russian nationals to “defraud the United States impairing, obstructing and defeating the lawful functions of the government […] for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes.”
The establishment-left widely praised the indictment as the indictment asserted that the Russians charged “were instructed […] to use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump […]),” lending support the one of Clinton’s many “What Happened” narratives. The establishment-right was similarly pleased, as it “put Russia on notice.”
The president and his supporters also applauded the indictment because it showed no evidence of collusion with the Trump campaign, and crowed that the current administration had been vindicated of the accusation that Trump and/or his campaign had knowingly worked with a foreign government to alter the outcome of the election.
Read the Internet Research Agency Indictment
Partisan politics aside, there are many interesting facets of the indictment that have largely been glossed over by the mainstream press. Chief among these is the fact that no evidence was presented that shows that the Russian nationals were acting at the behest of the Russian government. They were foreign nationals who, as some have pointed out, were making internet memes and social media groups prompted by an economic motivation as opposed to having been motivated by a Russian intelligence operation to interfere in the U.S. political process.
Furthermore, journalist Adrian Chen, who in 2015 investigated the so-called “Russian troll farm” at the center of the indictment, has noted that its operations were unsophisticated and “ineffective,” and that its employees “have a bare grasp of the English language.” Also noteworthy is the fact that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein noted that the “troll farm’s” efforts did not affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, buoying Chen’s claims of the group’s ineffectiveness.
OMG, a sober/informed Russia take on MSNBC! @AdrianChen , who profiled indicted Russian troll farm in 2015, tells @chrislhayes that what other MSNBC guests have compared to Pearl Harbor "is essentially a social media marketing campaign" and maybe not worthy of a national freakout pic.twitter.com/UkUaK2XRPe
— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) February 20, 2018
In addition, none of the 13 Russian nationals named in the indictment will ever face trial in the U.S. — meaning that Mueller and his team will never need to prove their case against them, as the evidence laid out in the indictment will never be scrutinized in a legal setting. Thus, the American public is unlikely to ever know if this recent indictment is fact-based or not. As McAdams pointed out, “prosecutors often lie and they may be lying here.”
Other criticisms of the indictment include the fact that, of the ads and social media campaigns allegedly produced by the Russian nationals, many were aired after the election and 25 percent were never seen at all — while some included content promoting Hillary Clinton, progressive causes like Black Lives Matter and even puppies.
No shutting Mueller down: the box Trump is in
However, one of the more overlooked implications of this recent indictment is not in the indictment at all. Instead, it is related to the fact that – even though no collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign has been revealed after nine months of investigating with the help of the U.S. surveillance apparatus – the Mueller investigation will continue “for months.”
As Bloomberg reports, Mueller is still actively investigating Trump-Russia collusion as well as obstruction and shady financial dealings of prominent Trump associates. According to that report, the recent indictment of 13 Russian nationals “should be seen as a limited slice of a comprehensive investigation.” In addition, James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence and current CNN contributor, ominously noted that there are “other shoes to drop” in the Mueller probe. He noted that those “shoes” will likely involve the “financial entanglements between the Trump Organization before the election and then during it.”
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Thus, the political pressure that has been applied to Trump thanks to the Mueller probe will continue. As analysts have noted, such political pressure has prevented Trump from adopting the non-interventionist foreign policy he campaigned on (whether or not Trump ever had any intention of putting that policy into effect is a separate issue).
McAdams asserted that this political pressure will maintain Trump’s neocon-inspired and aggressive foreign policy:
This means Trump is free to pursue the neocon foreign policy of confrontation with Russia, but also that if he meant what he said about ‘getting along with Russia’ he’ll have to drop that: in exchange for ‘no collusion’ he will have to join the beat-up of Russia.”
Furthermore, any attempt to dissolve the investigation – no matter how much it expands or evolves – will lead to Trump being accused of collusion once again, regardless of the absence of evidence. Said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, in a statement:
At this point, any step President Trump may take to interfere with the Special Counsel’s investigation — including removing Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, or threatening to remove Special Counsel Mueller directly — will have to be seen as a direct attempt to aid the Russian government in attacking American democracy.”
Trump didn’t just collude with Russia during the election. He’s colluding with Russia right now. He’s colluding with Russia by not implementing sanctions, he’s colluding with Russia by not defending America, he’s colluding with Russia by letting them attack us. #TrumpColluded
— Scott Dworkin (@funder) February 20, 2018
Some partisans have even argued that Trump is actively colluding with Russia by “not defending America” from Russia or implementing harsher sanctions and by letting Russia “attack us.” In other words, only further exacerbating the dangerous brinkmanship of the Cold War 2.0 will prevent Trump from being caught in the “collusion” snare.
Thus, while many praised the indictment, it seems the biggest winners to come out of the indictment’s release were the bipartisan war-hawks that dominate the political establishment in Washington.
What the indictment may mean for voices of dissent
Aside from pleasing the warmongers in the U.S. political establishment and intelligence community, the Mueller indictment has other potentially dangerous implications for any person – American or foreign-born – who criticizes the political status quo.
To McAdams, this was the most dangerous consequence of the indictment:
What is most alarming in the indictment is language clearly targeting ‘witting and unwitting accomplices’ to the so-called Russian efforts. As former CIA officer Phil Giraldi points out, ‘persons known and unknown’ who ‘unwittingly or wittingly’ helped the Russians could face consequences. Phil quotes a former prosecutor who says, ‘if I was an American and I did cooperate with Russians I would be extremely frightened…’ and also quotes Politico, which writes, ‘Now, a legal framework exists for criminal charges against Americans…’”
McAdams continued, noting that many dissenting voices, particularly those who object to interventionism or appear on outlets associated with Russia, could now be caught in the wide-cast net encompassing “Russian collusion:”
What does this mean? Does this mean that Americans who publicly dispute claims that the Russians are interfering in our democracy are ‘accomplices’ to the Russian efforts to dupe us? What about Americans who appear on RT, Sputnik, or other foreign-funded media outlets to criticize U.S. foreign policy? Are they accomplices to this ‘crime’ and thus liable to be prosecuted?”
As a result, the acceptable range of opinion in regard to U.S. foreign policy has been drastically reduced. On one hand, the Mueller indictment creates a foundation for the potential prosecution of any foreign citizen who criticizes an American political figure up for election. Thus, foreign writers who often write or tweet about U.S. politics – such as Aussies like John Pilger and Julian Assange, Canadians like Eva Bartlett, and Brits like Vanessa Beeley and George Galloway, among many other examples – could become the subject of a criminal investigation based on the precedent set up by the indictment. Even anti-Putin journalist Leonid Bershidsky of Bloomberg has worried that he could be targeted for merely being a Russian national who regularly writes about U.S. politics.
McAdams offered several hypotheticals to illustrate the potential implications:
If a non-interventionist calls for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, it can be argued that it is doing the bidding of Russia. Want to end the 17-year U.S. war in Afghanistan? So does Russia. Want the U.S. out of NATO and NATO disbanded? So does Russia. Want a smaller U.S. military budget? So does Russia. Taken to its logical conclusion, under this aspect of the indictment it becomes impossible to challenge the current hyper-interventionist, hyper-militarist U.S. foreign policy.”
Protecting the status quo
Given the more subtle and troubling implications of the Mueller indictment, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the Mueller probe has less to do with “protecting” American democracy, as is often claimed by its most fierce proponents, and more to do with protecting the status quo.
For instance — though initially tasked with investigating the relationship between the DNC and Podesta leaks, the Trump campaign, and Russia — the Mueller investigation has yet to investigate the DNC servers or Seth Rich’s computer and has failed to interview key witnesses like Julian Assange. The leaks that ostensibly began Mueller’s investigation were not included in last Friday’s indictment.
Just skimmed the Mueller indictment. It's about those Facebook ads! So what about the DNC hack??
— Leonid Bershidsky (@Bershidsky) February 16, 2018
Furthermore, the fact that “neither Republicans nor Democrats opposed the naming of Mueller as special counsel,” as McAdams pointed out, is very telling. The bipartisan support his appointment received is even more telling given that Mueller is the definition of a Washington insider who, during his time as head of the FBI, presided over the botched investigation into the anthrax scare and the baseless accusations of “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq’s possession, which led to the disastrous invasion of that country and killed over half a million innocent Iraqis.
In protecting the status quo, Mueller’s goal is not to protect or strengthen U.S. democracy. Instead, it has shown itself to be a Trojan horse intent on restricting meaningful criticism or discourse related to the status quo, preserving the power structure of the political elites.
Trump and Bernie Sanders were not popular due to alleged Russian intervention. They gained popularity because they spoke against the status quo while, for many Americans, Clinton embodied its continuation. Mueller’s probe is proving itself to be the political establishment’s last-ditch attempt to keep things as they are, to prevent any meaningful change – no matter how strongly supported by the American electorate such change may be – by seeking to silence critics of U.S. “status quo” foreign and domestic policy.
However, as history shows, status quo domestic policy in the U.S. leads to the widening of the gap between rich and poor and the enrichment of corrupt corporations at the expense of the majority, while the foreign policy of the status quo always leads to war. With prominent politicians and U.S. intelligence officials now claiming that the U.S. is “under attack” and that the Russians are “already attempting” to target the upcoming midterm elections in November, the Mueller probe’s promotion of dangerous brinkmanship and its chilling effect on dissent is the real threat to the American people.
Top Photo | A Facebook posting for a group called “Being Patriotic.” A federal grand jury indictment alleges 13 Russians ran an elaborate plot to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election beginning in June 2016, defendants allegedly organized and coordinated political rallies in the U.S. “Being Patriotic” promoted and organized two political rallies in New York according to the indictment. (AP/Jon Elswick)
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News who has written for several news organizations in both English and Spanish; her stories have been featured on ZeroHedge, the Anti-Media, and 21st Century Wire among others. She currently lives in Southern Chile.