By Josh Cropanzano || Contributing Writer
On February 16, 2018, it was announced by the Department of Justice that 13 Russians would be indicted for helping the Trump campaign in the 2016 election. The Russian operatives “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign,” according to FBI director Robert Mueller in a statement. This marks the first time Mueller has indicted persons for crimes relating to the election. The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, stressed that these indictments did not necessarily mean Russian influence impacted the result of the election, but these indictments have fueled further speculation on the issue and the FBI is continuing to investigate.
In related news, Mueller struck a plea deal on the same day with California resident Richard Pinedo for identity theft and Dutch attorney Alex van der Zwaan for lying to federal investigators about his interactions with Rick Gates, a prominent campaign aid for Donald Trump who pled guilty in Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. These plea deals have created a buzz of speculation, with some suggesting that they have pleaded guilty in exchange for aiding Federal investigators in the Mueller probe. However, with equal clamoring, others have predicted that these plea deals are simply Mueller tying up loose ends and that he doesn’t intend to push any further on Mr. Pinedo or Mr. Van der Zwaan. In the meantime, grand juries continue to back indictments for the Mueller probe, with another round of indictments announced on February 22nd for both Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, although neither’s indictment is directly related to the 2016 election.
In the White House, the response has been that these indictments are proof of President Trump’s innocence, proof that there were no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. Trump said Indeed, Donald Trump has remained steadfast in declaring that the Russia Investigation has been a witch hunt against him. On February 19th he tweeted, “If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. […] They have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their ***es off in Moscow. Get smart America!” That same day, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) remarked that Obama “maybe should have done more” to warn about Russian meddling. Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA28) said in a CNN interview, “The evidence is now overwhelming and unequivocal, and we need to move to protect ourselves from Russian interference.”
This latest round of indictments comes at a time when Republicans are already beginning to fear the worst in the 2018 midterm elections. On the 2018 Generic Congressional ballot, Republicans are down by 7.8 points on average, and require about a 5 point lead if they want to hold onto the House of Representatives. There is concern the continued investigation will have an influence over the Republican performance in 2018 midterms. However, should Mueller’s probe come to an end with these 13 Russian operatives, the political situation for the Republicans, and Trump’s White House, might begin to improve. What is certain, though, is that little action has been taken to ensure that the interference which occurred in the 2016 election cannot be repeated again in the 2018 midterms. Whether safe-guards will be put into place before the elections begin remains to be seen.
Sophomore Josh Cropanzano is a staff writer. His email is email@example.com.