Andrew McCarthy: Stone indictment makes clear there was no Trump-Russia conspiracy

Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s indictment of Roger Stone elucidates what has been apparent to the public for a year, and therefore must have been known to prosecutors and the FBI for much longer: There was no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian government. That is, the Kremlin’s cyber-espionage efforts to undermine the 2016 election by hacking Democratic email accounts were not coordinated with the Trump campaign.

In the Stone indictment, Mueller offers up 20 pages of heavy-breathing narrative about the Russian theft of tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, the transmission of the purloined materials to WikiLeaks (portrayed as a witting arm of the Putin regime), and their subsequent media publication in the final weeks of the campaign. But the big wind produces no rain. At the end, we get a couple of pages of process crimes.

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Stone is charged with such comparative trifles as concealing from Congress that his communications with an associate were in writing. The seven counts are offenses generated not by an espionage conspiracy but by the investigation of an espionage conspiracy that did not exist.

Not one that “may not have existed.” The Trump-Russia conspiracy did not exist.

This should not be controversial. It should not matter whether you like Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration MORE. It should not matter whether you believe, as I do, that Trump’s ingratiating campaign posture toward Vladimir Putin’s murderous anti-American regime was detestable, and that the Trump orbit’s cajoling of WikiLeaks — a cat’s paw of the GRU, Russia’s largest foreign intelligence agency, that has done immense damage to U.S. intelligence and national security — was reprehensible. It is simply a matter of reading the special counsel’s indictments, of seeing through their ambitious storytelling and grappling with what they actually charge.

It is very simple. If the Trump campaign had been in an espionage conspiracy with Russia to hack Democratic email accounts, why would the campaign have needed Stone to try to figure out what stolen information WikiLeaks had and when it would release that information?

Mind you, it appears that Stone did not know, either. The indictment suggests he was expecting a lollapalooza of a Clinton Foundation exposé that never materialized. Mueller does not make the claim, suggested widely in the media, that Stone had foreknowledge that Podesta’s emails would be disclosed. And, to repeat, Stone is not charged with being in a conspiracy with WikiLeaks.

As Election Day approached, then, the Trump campaign did not know what Russia had hacked and, indeed, had no more reason than the rest of us news consumers to suspect that Russia was behind the hacking of Democrats. It knew WikiLeaks might have emails that were somehow related to Mrs. Clinton because Julian Assange had said so quite publicly in June 2016. But the campaign did not know whose emails these were, or that WikiLeaks — which has many sources of stolen communications — necessarily got them from Russia. People in and around the Trump campaign had a dialogue with Stone about what WikiLeaks might be planning, but Stone was just speculating; though he had sources with better access to WikiLeaks than he had, they, too, were unsure.

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Indications of the Trump campaign’s lack of knowledge about, much less involvement in, Russia’s operations are not new. They are completely consistent with the two indictments Mueller has filed against Russian enterprises: the “troll farm” case, charged in February 2018, and the hacking case, charged five months later. While the Russians never have been particularly effective at meddling in U.S. elections, their intelligence apparatus has been at it for the better part of a century. Peddling propaganda and, in modern times, hacking are not activities they need help with — not from Trump’s campaign or anyone else’s.

Democrats speculate that Putin wanted Trump to win. Most of us on the other side counter that he wanted to sow discord into American society regardless of who won. In either event, Putin’s desires do not make Trump complicit in Putin’s violations of American law — even if most of us can agree that Trump’s courting of Putin’s favor was nauseating (as were the Obama/Clinton “Russian Reset,” the Uranium One deal, Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonHarris off to best start among Dems in race, say strategists, donors For 2020, Democrats are lookin’ for somebody to love A year since Parkland: we have a solution MORE’s collection of a tidy $500,000 for a quickie Moscow speech, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaGovernment's misguided holiday to celebrate itself Virginia can be better than this Democrats have a chance of beating Trump with Julian Castro on the 2020 ticket MORE’s hot-mic promise of  “flexibility” on Russian demands once the 2012 election was over, and so on).

There is abundant evidence of bipartisan American naiveté and policy foolishness regarding Putin’s regime. There is no proof of a criminal conspiracy between Trump and the Putin regime. To the contrary, Mueller continues to pile up proof in the opposite direction.

This being the case, there are three questions I’d suggest to Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support Democrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Warren: Officials have duty ‘to invoke 25th amendment’ if they think Trump is unfit MORE (R-S.C.), who now chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and has done yeoman’s work investigating Obama-era politicization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process.

In all four of the warrants the Justice Department and FBI sought to monitor Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, the purportedly “verified” applications outlined Russia’s hacking operations and then, following a passage that has been deleted from the publicly released application, informed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that “the FBI believes the Russian government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with [Donald Trump’s] campaign.” This representation echoed then-FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyWarren: Officials have duty ‘to invoke 25th amendment’ if they think Trump is unfit McCabe: Trump 'may have' committed a crime in blocking Russia probe Trump: 'Disgraced' McCabe, Rosenstein look like they were planning 'very illegal act' MORE’s March 2017 House Intelligence Committee testimony that the FBI believed there was a basis to investigate “whether there was any coordination between the [Trump] campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

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So here are the questions that Chairman Graham might consider putting to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Warren: Officials have duty ‘to invoke 25th amendment’ if they think Trump is unfit McCabe: Trump 'may have' committed a crime in blocking Russia probe MORE (who approved the last FISA warrant application on Page):

Do the Justice Department and the FBI still stand behind their representation to the FISC and their highly irregular, publicly announced suspicion that the Trump campaign coordinated in Russia’s cyber operations against the 2016 election?

If they do not continue to stand behind their representation to the court and public announcement to the committee, have they corrected the record with the FISC or the House Intelligence Committee (there not having been any public retraction)?

If they do stand behind their representation, how do they square that position with the indictments filed by Mueller, which have charged no Trump-Russia conspiracy, and which indicate there was no Trump-Russia conspiracy?

Many would say such questions can await Mueller’s final report. But even if the special counsel’s investigation is winding down, the indictment of Stone eventually could lead to a trial, and there is an active grand jury, so additional indictments are possible. The Mueller probe could go on for months. Americans are entitled to know now if the president and his campaign are suspected of being clandestine agents of Russia.

Former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at National Review Institute, a contributing editor at National Review, and a Fox News contributor.