Saturday, February 24, 2018

Russia and Trump's election

Charlie Dunlap at Lawfare writes about the factually very important question, Why the Mueller Indictment Doesn't Allege the Russians Swung the Election 02/22/2018.

He also extensively cites a Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) study by Duncan Watts and David Rothschild, Don’t blame the election on fake news. Blame it on the media. 12/05/2017.

Dunlap bases his argument on his reading of how the indictment involving 13 Russians was rolled out:
In announcing that 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies were being charged for “seeking to interfere in the United States political system,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made it clear that the indictment contained “no allegation … that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.” Could a future indictment show that? Maybe, but I think that’s unlikely. Here’s why.

I doubt that Rosenstein would make a point of discussing the outcome of the election if he really expected that some future indictment would claim the results were compromised. If Rosenstein knows now that there is such evidence, when that fact does comes out it — as it inevitably would — it would hardly be flattering to him or the Mueller investigation itself. [my emphasis]
That's a bit of "Kremlinology" style speculation, but a reasonable one. Which he explains in further detail.

It's important to remember that collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence is not only difficult to prove. And, as I understand it, the crime involved would not be technically called "collusion," but rather violations of US election law, illegal conspiracy, or illegal acts (like money-laundering) committed in their pursuit or in covering them up. And Dunlap reminds us that such collusion "a very distinct issue from whether the Russians successfully tainted the election."

Watts and Rothschild argue "that the volume of reporting around fake news, and the role of tech companies in disseminating those falsehoods, is both disproportionate to its likely influence in the outcome of the election and diverts attention from the culpability of the mainstream media itself."

The Hillary Clinton campaign immediately adopted the position that Russian interference was to blame for their loss due to tiny margins in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Hillary hardliners like Neera Tanden still make that argument, often posing it in the negative, e.g., how can you argue that Russian interference didn't affect the outcome?

Which, of course, isn't the same as offering coherent arguments and factual evidence that Russian actions did decisively affect the outcome. For the reasons advanced by Dunlap, Watts, Rothschild and others, it's not an argument that can be convincingly made based on what is currently in the public record.

But it also is in a real sense irrelevant to what needs to be done investigating what happened in 2016 and and taking appropriate precautions this year and in the future. Dunlap includes his piece, "America still needs to do whatever it takes to preserve the sanctity of the electoral process against the Russians or any other foreigners 'seeking to interfere in the United States political system.'"

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