- This past weekend, President Donald Trump fired off more than a dozen tweets about Russia following the latest charges in the investigation into Russian election meddling.
- Trump alternated between declaring his innocence, blaming former President Barack Obama for Russia’s election interference, accusing Hillary Clinton of collusion, and suggesting the FBI could have prevented last week’s Florida school shooting if it hadn’t been so focused on the Russia investigation.
- The charges the special counsel announced Friday did not implicate any members of the Trump campaign or the White House.
- Trump’s unprecedented level of public frustration with the investigation most likely stems from his belief that Friday’s indictment threatens the legitimacy of his election victory.
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It was a busy long weekend for President Donald Trump.
From his Mar-a-Lago Club, 36 miles from the school where a deadly shooting claimed 17 lives last week, Trump spent more time than usual weighing in on the Russia investigation via Twitter.
His tweets came in slow succession after the special counsel Robert Mueller’s office announced charges on Friday against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities over a social-media disinformation campaign aimed at sowing discord to influence the 2016 US election.
It’s not a new practice for Trump, who uses Twitter for everything from excoriating his critics to announcing new policies.
But this Presidents Day weekend, the commander-in-chief fired off an unprecedented 14 tweets about the Russia investigation –declaring his innocence, suggesting the FBI could have prevented last week’s Florida school shooting if it hadn’t been working on the investigation, blaming Democrats and former President Barack Obama for Russia’s interference in the election, and accusing the former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton of colluding with Russia.
Friday’s charges were the fifth set released in Mueller’s investigation, which is examining the extent of Russia’s interference in the race and whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt it in Trump’s favour. The new indictment did not accuse the Trump campaign of wrongdoing. It also did not make a judgment on whether the Russian defendants’ actions altered the outcome of the election.
Despite that, the weekend marked the first time since March, when James Comey, then the FBI director, confirmed the investigation’s existence, that Trump had been so vocal about his criticisms of the Russia investigation.
The reason, experts say, is that even without specifically naming Trump or his associates, Mueller effectively threw a wrench into Trump’s most passionate belief about his ascendance to the Oval Office: that he got there on his own merit and without any outside help.
‘But wasn’t I a great candidate?’
“I did what was an almost an impossible thing to do for a Republican-easily won the Electoral College!” he tweeted last April. He later added an immediately discredited claim that he lost the popular vote only because “millions” of people voted illegally.
Of Russia’s involvement in hacking the Democratic National Committee, Trump said during the campaign, “I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”
When the CIA determined in late 2016 that Russia put its thumb on the scale during the election in a specific effort to aid the Trump campaign, his transition team released the following statement: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.'”
When Trump finally acknowledged in early January 2017 that Russia meddled in the election, he tacked on an addendum: “Hacking’s bad, and it shouldn’t be done. But look at the things that were hacked, look at what was learned from that hacking.” He also didn’t say the Kremlin’s actions were aimed at boosting his candidacy.
In the tweetstorm on Sunday morning, Trump accused Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, of using Russian collusion to justify Clinton’s loss to Trump.
“Now that Adam Schiff is starting to blame President Obama for Russian meddling in the election, he is probably doing so as yet another excuse that the Democrats, lead by their fearless leader, Crooked Hillary Clinton, lost the 2016 election,” the president tweeted. “But wasn’t I a great candidate?”
‘This undermines the legitimacy of his election – and even his presidency’
Mueller’s indictment on Friday laid out in minute detail an elaborate campaign by Russian actors to sway American voters in favour of Trump.
The indictment “hits close to home” for Trump, said Jeffrey Cramer, a former longtime federal prosecutor who is now a managing director at Berkeley Research Group.
It speaks solely to the issue of Russia’s attempts to influence the election, he said, adding, “this president takes personally any allegation that he won for any reason other than his decisions on the campaign trail.”
The Internet Research Agency, the notorious Russian “troll farm” named as a defendant in the indictment, is thought to have begun its operation to interfere in the 2016 election as early as 2014. At the time, Trump had not declared his candidacy but had indicated his interest in a presidential run to multiple news outlets.
As the campaign season got underway, the indictment says, the defendants engaged in a social-media influence operation meant to denigrate Clinton and strong Republican contenders like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
Trolls were instructed to use any opportunity to criticise candidates across the field “except [Bernie] Sanders and Trump” because “we support them,” the indictment says.
In late summer 2016, Russia-linked Facebook accounts posing as American activists also reached out to at least three Trump campaign officials to ask whether they could assist the campaign’s operation in Florida.
By that point, the court filing said, the defendants’ “operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump … and disparaging Hillary Clinton.”
Jens David Ohlin, a vice dean at Cornell Law School who is an expert on criminal law, said Monday that Trump appeared to be “enraged” by Friday’s indictment because it was the first time the Russia investigation had published evidence in such specific detail “that Russian actors interfered in the election and covertly supported Trump.”
Though the effects on the election’s outcome remain unclear, he added that “for Trump, this undermines the legitimacy of his election – and even his presidency.”
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