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Trump lashes out after Mueller indictment, downplays Russian plot

“The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong,” President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter. | Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo

The president blasted the ‘fake news’ media and quoted a Facebook executive as he insisted the Kremlin did not collude with his campaign or influence the 2016 vote.

President Donald Trump lashed out Saturday at suggestions that Russia helped him win the presidency, reiterating that a new federal indictment showed no evidence of collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin and even invoking the words of a Facebook executive in his defense.

In a series of afternoon tweets, Trump responded to special counsel Robert Mueller’s Friday indictment of 13 Russians for a criminal plot that featured social media manipulation and political organizing in support of Trump and against his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

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The tweets show Trump’s continued extreme sensitivity to charges that Russian meddling might have helped him win the election, and his ongoing fury at the “fake news” media’s coverage of the saga — though Trump did not criticize Mueller or other Justice Department and FBI officials, as he has in the past.

Amplifying the White House’s initial response to Mueller’s indictment, Trump cited a conservative columnist who called it a “big win” for the president, and quoted Mueller’s Justice Department supervisor saying that the indictment did not allege collusion or say that the Russians altered the outcome of the election.

“The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!” Trump wrote in one of the tweets.

It is true that Mueller’s latest indictment found no evidence of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russians. But the charges filed Friday cover only one portion of a broad Russian effort to meddle in the 2016 election and do not rule out the possibility of collusion overall. The indictment, which did not touch on issues like the hacking of Democratic emails and meetings between Trump associates and Russians, drew no conclusions about whether the Russian effort might have swayed any votes.

Trump also retweeted two Friday tweets by Facebook’s vice president for advertising, who complained after the Mueller indictment that the media has mischaracterized the motives of Russian advertising on social media. “I have seen all of the Russian ads and I can say very definitively that swaying the election was *NOT* the main goal,” wrote the executive, Rob Goldman — a phrase Trump repeated himself.

Goldman also insisted that most online ad spending traced to Russian buyers occurred after the 2016 election, complaining that “very few outlets have covered it because it doesn’t align with the main media narrative of Trump and the election.”

“The Fake News Media never fails. Hard to ignore this fact,” Trump wrote in response.

Intelligence officials and experts have long said that Russia’s primary goal is to destabilize the U.S. political system. But the U.S. intelligence community has also unanimously concluded that, at the same time, the Kremlin favored Trump over Clinton in the 2016 election and clearly worked on Trump’s behalf.

Goldman followed up in a Saturday tweet that he was “only speaking here about the Russian behavior on Facebook. That is the only aspect that I observed directly.” A Facebook spokesman said Goldman was tweeting in a personal capacity.

Trump also tweeted quotes from a Friday press conference by Mueller’s supervisor, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

“Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein stated at the News Conference: “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election,” Trump wrote.

And citing a column by New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin titled “Charges Deal Don A Big Win,” Trump wrote that Goodwin “succinctly states that ‘the Russians had no impact on the election results.’ There was no Collusion with the Trump Campaign. ‘[Clinton] lost the old-fashioned way, by being a terrible candidate. Case closed.'”

None of Trump’s tweets expressed anger or alarm about the Russian intervention, which Mueller’s charges said involved entry into the U.S. by Russians collecting intelligence for the plan.

Russia investigation

A White House spokesperson went even further Saturday, suggesting that Democrats and the mainstream media deserve more blame than Russia for political division in the U.S.

“There are two groups that have created chaos more than the Russians,” White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said on Fox News. “And that’s the Democrats and the mainstream media who continued to push this lie on the American people for more than a year, and quite frankly Americans should be outraged by that.”

But even as Trump and Gidley claimed vindication in Friday’s indictments and downplayed the impact of the Russian effort, other top administration officials are acknowledging the attack and calling for consequences.

“There’s no question that Russia sought to interfere, perhaps with other countries, in our electoral process and it’s absolutely essential that we take action against individuals who attempted to interfere with our democracy,” Vice President Mike Pence told Fox News.

Robert Mueller is pictured. | Getty Images

National security adviser H.R. McMaster echoed the point, telling the Munich Security Conference that the evidence of Moscow’s interference is “incontrovertible.”

“Whereas in the past it was difficult to attribute … now this is in the arena of law enforcement investigation, it’s going to be very apparent to everyone,” he said.

Trump himself has repeatedly suggested that it’s impossible to know who might have hacked the emails of Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, even though the U.S. intelligence community has unanimously concluded it was the work of the Russian government.

One of Trump’s Saturday tweets also noted that Mueller’s indictment says the Russians who are facing charges — all of them affiliated with the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency — began their plot in 2014.

“Funny how the Fake News Media doesn’t want to say that the Russian group was formed in 2014, long before my run for President. Maybe they knew I was going to run even though I didn’t know!” Trump wrote.

Some experts have noted that the Russian plot, which Mueller traces to April of 2014, began just after U.S.-Russia relations reached a breaking point following Moscow’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. But Trump had also sent clear signals more than a year before that he was considering a 2016 presidential run.

Friday’s indictment detailed the extent of Russia’s information warfare and noted that the operatives “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”

Congress passed sanctions in 2017 to punish Russia for its interference, which Trump signed into law. His administration has so far declined to enact the sanctions, however, saying that they are serving as a “deterrent.”

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