Even by his standards, President Trump has been on a Twitter rampage since special counsel Robert Mueller started indicting Russians for election interference last Friday. Trump has sent 16 tweets on the topic in the three days following the indictment, amounting to roughly two-thirds of all of the tweets he sent in that time period.
The Russia tweets had one big thing in common: They were full of lies.
Friday’s indictments focused on Russian social media activity — creating pro-Trump Facebook groups and anti-Hillary Twitter bots — rather than hacks targeting the Clinton campaign or US election infrastructure. Trump’s tweets describe this as vindication; as proof that “there is no collusion” between his campaign and Russia and that the whole scandal was ginned up by Democrats and “the fake news media.”
This is not true — the absence of indictments related to collusion on Friday does not mean that such indictments won’t be coming in the future. But in order to make it sound true, Trump’s tweets ended up twisting the facts in ways that range from factually dubious (the notion that allegations of Trump-Russia collusion are a “hoax”) to the downright offensive (claiming the FBI would have caught the Parkland, Florida, shooter if it hadn’t been so busy investigating his ties to Russia).
Sometimes, though, he strayed into the territory of outright, easily debunkable lies. What follows are the three clearest examples.
Lie 1: the indictments prove that Russian hacking didn’t affect the election
Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 16, 2018
The main thrust of Trump’s tweets was, for whatever reason, the idea that election hacking didn’t affect the outcome of the 2016 election. Trump attributes this claim to the FBI indictments, citing a New York Post article arguing that they prove “[Clinton] lost the old-fashioned way, by being a terrible candidate. Case closed.”
It would indeed be striking if Mueller weighed in on this question; you don’t typically see polling analysis in criminal indictments. Yet it’s not there. Nowhere does the indictment say that Russian social media efforts were irrelevant to the election. If anything, it seems to imply the opposite — listing off a series of large-scale efforts by Russia’s Internet Research Agency (the name its hackers used) to shape the outcome of the election:
Defendant ORGANIZATION had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton.
Defendants made various expenditures to carry out those activities, including buying political advertisements on social media in the names of U.S. persons and entities. Defendants also staged political rallies inside the United States, and while posing as U.S. grassroots entities and U.S. persons, and without revealing their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation, solicited and compensated real U.S. persons to promote or disparage candidates. Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.
Now, the report doesn’t outright say that these activities were decisive in helping Trump win. But it also doesn’t say that they had no impact on the election. It’s agnostic on the question, as is appropriate in a federal indictment.
Trump’s assertion that Russian social media campaigns didn’t sway the election may be true; the data on that question is really hard to parse. But it’s an outright lie to say, as Trump did, that Friday’s indictments have settled the question. Trump is misstating the Mueller team’s conclusions to make him seem like a more legitimate president.
Lie 2: Trump has always accepted that Russia meddled in the election
I never said Russia did not meddle in the election, I said “it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.” The Russian “hoax” was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia - it never did!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018
Trump, in the above tweet, is actually quoting himself inaccurately. During a 2016 presidential debate, he said that the perpetrator of the hacks “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, okay?” Trump somehow mangled the quote in his tweet.
But there’s a bigger lie here: Trump has, on more than one occasion, said he did not believe that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. My colleague Emily Stewart put together a list of examples:
Trump has repeatedly said he takes Russian President Vladimir Putin at his word when he denies meddling in the 2016 election, because he seems like a nice enough guy, right? “Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that, and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump said of Putin last November while speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One.
A few months earlier, in July, the president said something similar in an interview with Reuters after having met with Putin. “I said, ‘Did you do it?’ And he said, ‘No, I did not. Absolutely not.’ I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said absolutely not,” Trump said.
When asked whether he thought Putin did it, the president said “something happened” — but that Putin seems like a pretty savvy guy, someone who would be hard to catch. “Somebody did say if he did do it, you won’t have found out about it. Which is a very interesting point,” Trump said.
According to a count by the Washington Post, Trump “denounced the Russian probe as a hoax or witch hunt perpetuated by Democrats” more than 44 times since being inaugurated. There’s just no way he can claim he didn’t deny Russian hacking with a straight face (especially since he’s currently refusing to enforce new sanctions on Russia designed to punish them for said hack).
Lie 3: Hillary Clinton colluded with Russia
General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018
Here, Trump is doing a bit of theater criticism: analyzing National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster’s appearance at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday. Trump is publicly admonishing McMaster for failing to toe the Trump administration line in his remarks.
But more fundamentally, the idea that “the only collusion was between Russia and Crooked H” is just bonkers. There is no evidence that the Clinton campaign coordinated its campaign strategy with the Russian government.
The indictment shows why this is such a weird theory. Russian bots and social media presence, Mueller’s team explains, were devoted overwhelmingly to attacking the Clinton campaign and boosting various other ones — mostly Trump, but also Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein. Put that together with the lack of concrete evidence of communication between Clinton aides and Russian officials and Trump’s tweet makes no sense.
To try to make this assertion sound more credible, Trump rapid-fire lists a series of Clinton-adjacent events: the Steele dossier, the Uranium One so-called scandal, her Goldman Sachs speeches, her private email server, and her campaign director’s brother’s ties to Russia. There’s some link to Russia in some of these — the Steele dossier relied on sources in Russia and was partially funded by the Clinton campaign, a fact that the campaign wasn’t exactly forthcoming about — but they don’t tie together in a cohesive way.
Listing them off in this fashion, however, does fit a conservative media counternarrative where Clinton, not Trump, is the one with shady Kremlin ties. There’s no real evidence linking the Clinton campaign to the Russian government — but it makes a lot of sense that a president who spends his mornings mainlining Fox News would think there was.