Drain the Swamp

Why Mueller’s Indictment of 12 Russians Is Meaningless Theater

Does anybody seriously think Vladimir Putin will ship a dozen of his intelligence service's top digital spies to America to face trial?

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made a huge splash Friday by announcing that special counsel Robert Mueller has issued an indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence operatives for hacking the computer systems of two top Democratic campaign committees.

What Rosenstein didn’t say in making that announcement suggests the indictment was made public to manipulate voters, rather than as a public information service provided to help American citizens understand what their government is doing.

One word Rosenstein did utter during his news conference tells the story — “apprehension.” As when the deputy attorney general who appointed Mueller said, “The special counsel’s investigation is ongoing, and there will be no comments by the special counsel at this time … we intend to transition responsibility for this indictment to the Justice Department’s National Security Division (NSD) while we await the apprehension of the defendants.”

Congressional Democrats quickly seized on the indictment to demand that President Donald Trump either cancel his meeting Monday in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin or challenge Putin to agree to extradite the indicted intelligence officers.

And that’s why Rosenstein’s Friday news conference was meaningless, except as attempted manipulation of public perception of the special counsel investigation of allegations that aides to Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russian interests.

But the fact that the U.S. has no extradition treaty with Russia only begins to explain why Rosenstein’s news conference was suspect. Demands that Putin extradite 12 employees of his government’s intelligence service beg credulity.

This is the same Putin who granted temporary asylum to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden five years ago, after the world learned he was a cyber-traitor on an unprecedented scale. Just last year, Putin extended Snowden’s asylum to 2020.

If anything, Putin may well be more likely to have his thugs round up a dozen American citizens presently in Russia and jail them on trumped-up espionage charges in retaliation for the Mueller indictment.

Related: Trump Adds Sanctions, Joins World Leaders in Condemning Russia Spy Poisoning

Rosenstein also offered another assertion that must have caused honest journalists everywhere to roll on the floor laughing: “I want to caution you that people who speculate about federal investigations usually do not know all of the relevant facts. We do not try cases on television or in congressional hearings. Most anonymous leaks are not from government officials who actually conducted these investigations.”

Also laughing uproariously at that one somewhere out there in the great beyond is former FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt, Mr. Watergate “Deep Throat” himself.

Russian spies apprehended? Anonymous leaks not from government officials? Who is Rosenstein kidding?

There is one sense, however, in which the indictment is quite serious. In its opening page, the indictment explains that the 12 named individuals conspired “to gain unauthorized access (to ‘hack’) into the computers of U.S. persons and entities involved in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, steal documents from those computers, and stage releases of the documents to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

It may not matter at all — in fact, as The Last Refuge explained Friday — it may be to Mueller’s benefit that the 12 Russian intelligence officers will never set foot in this country. The point of the indictment is to set the predicate for Mueller’s forthcoming case that Trump’s campaign knew in advance about the staged releases and prepared campaign strategy accordingly. This will be called “collusion.”