The indictments of the 12 Russian military officers accused of engaging in a coordinated attack on the United States to try to make their preferred candidate our president are a vital reminder that the Mueller investigation cannot and must not be seen as a political issue.
The fact that on Friday we also heard from our Director of National Intelligence, a conservative GOP former senator from Indiana, that the cyber offensive (of which the GRU, Russian military intelligence, attacks were part of) is ongoing and that "we are at a critical point" in which "the warning signs are there" is also salient.
It is not an accident that both these strong statements were made as the U.S. president prepared for his ill-considered and unnecessary private meeting with Vladimir Putin — the man who certainly approved, oversaw and continues to oversee these attacks.
It is clear that the intelligence and law enforcement communities of the United States — adhering to the principles of patriotism enumerated by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Friday — felt that a message needed to be sent to the Russians that we were on to them.
Typically, the president would deliver such a message, but this president has proven to be the staunchest defender of Putin and the most active advocate of covering up or denying these attacks. He did it again this week even while aware of the indictments.
Do the indictments and the Coats statement (again, both delivered by Republicans) also send a message they do not fully trust the president to deliver that message or to press the Russians on it? I believe they do.
Further, the White House response to the indictments — which again does not deal with the ongoing threat to our democracy posed by the Russians but instead (wrongly) seeks to exonerate the president from his involvement in this affair — confirms the wisdom of their actions.
This is an extraordinary moment. It is without equal, not only in American history but in modern history. A hostile foreign power intervened in our election to help elect a man president who has since actively served their interests and has defended them at every turn.
Trump may deny collusion. But given that this the attack continues, denying it is collusion, distracting from it is collusion, obstructing the investigation of it is collusion — because all these things enable it to go on.
That the president is abetted in his aid for the Russians — again, in the midst of this ongoing attack — by the leadership of the Republican Party makes the situation all the more extraordinary and dangerous. As Republicans seek to undermine the investigation, they serve Russia as directly as if they were officers of the GRU. Some now reportedly seek to impeach Rosenstein on trumped up charges. To attack one of our national defense leaders as we are being attacked, and to do so to benefit our foreign adversary, is textbook treason.
That is strong language. But consider this: If we updated our definitions of war to include cyberwar, then aiding a foreign power engaged in such a war against us would certainly meet the Constitutional definition: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”
When only semantics protect our president and our ruling party from the harsh sentences treason demands, we need to recognize the severity of the situation. But more importantly, we need to recognize one of the most important implications of yesterday: while we who watch or chat on cable news have lost the plot here, while the GOP makes it about personal attacks on FBI officers, while the President makes it about him, while many of us make it about partisan politics, Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein have kept their eye on the ball.
They recognize, as does Coats and as do the leaders of our intelligence community and as does every law-enforcement and national security expert with whom I have spoken that this is, above all and most urgently, is a national security crisis for the United States.
We have been the target of the most successful cyber and information warfare operation in history and that operation is ongoing. We have great capabilities to defend ourselves as the indictments’ bravura act of naming names and specific military units revealed. But the Russians are gaining know-how daily, too.
At stake are the results in our 2018 and 2020 elections and the integrity of our political system. This enemy seeks not only to put puppets, or weak or deficient leaders in place, it seeks to gain leverage over them as they come to realize they are not the beneficiaries of the Russian attacks. (We now know clearly how that works.)
They seek to use them to advance their interests on a broad international front (consider their success in achieving this goal thus far in this administration … you need to look back no further than this week's NATO Summit.)
If they succeed, America will be profoundly weakened, our standing, our alliances and the international system we built may be irreversibly damaged.
What is more, at this point, given the success the Russians have had to date and the power of their defenders within our system, we simply do not know whether this ambitious campaign of theirs will continue to succeed. Their collaborators could kill the investigation that is revealing the scope and nature of their plans. Their colluders could win victory after victory. And so can the Russians.