The theory that Russia directly tipped the 2016 election in Donald Trump's favor has become an established fact in the wake of the indictments against two of President Trump’s former campaign hands, according to some in the media.
On Monday, federal charges were brought against Paul Manafort, one of Trump’s former campaign chairmen, and it was revealed that George Papadopoulos, a national security adviser of debated significance to the campaign, lied to the FBI about his attempts to connect with Russia. Those events moved journalists and commentators to pronounce that Trump’s presidency was marked by illegitimacy.
“There is zero doubt — and piles of new evidence — that Russia manipulated our election,” journalist Mike Allen of Axios wrote Tuesday. “This next phase [of the investigation into Russia’s interference] will show if Trump himself was aware or involved, or has any interest in doing anything about it — and how extensively America's most powerful [social media] companies enabled the mass manipulation.”
U.S. intelligence agencies have long concluded that Russia waged a campaign to interfere in the election, in part by using so-called “bot” social media accounts and social media to spread fake news articles dealing with many of America’s most contentious political issues, such as race relations.
Executives from Facebook and Twitter submitted written testimony to Congress this week admitting that they found evidence their platforms were used to reach perhaps hundreds of millions of people in Russia's disruptive campaign. That testimony also prompted media figures to proclaim that the election was tainted.
“I’m not good at math, but you had 288 million impressions on Twitter, you had 126 million impressions on Facebook,” MSNBC host Joe Scarborough said on his show Tuesday. “That adds up to a lot of people. It’s over 400 million impressions, more impressions than there are people in the United States of America. So, it’s kind of hard for the Trump campaign or anybody, Facebook, Twitter, anybody to not say that had an impact on the election in some way.”
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, a guest on the show, agreed, even while acknowledging that there has been no proof that Russia’s interference made any decisive difference in votes. “And it did,” he said. “It obviously did. We can’t quantify that … [W]e’ll never know for sure that that tipped the election to Donald Trump, but clearly to say that that had no impact is ridiculous.”
But USA Today White House reporter Heidi Przybyla went further and said that the media should be able to say definitively that Russia’s campaign worked.
“[W]e as journalists need to stop right now saying that this did not have an effect,” she said, also on MSNBC. “Because what we saw in this election very clearly was that turnout on the Democratic side was depressed and that that was the strategic aim of the Russians."
Trump has repeatedly referred to special counsel Robert Muller’s investigation into Russia and allegations of collusion with the Trump campaign as a “witch hunt.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said at the press briefing Tuesday that the news media is “obsessed” and that the indictments so far have only “shown more and more that there was no connection between the Trump campaign and collusion with Russia.”
The charges against Manafort, the former campaign chairman, were unrelated to the campaign and included tax evasion and a failure to register as an agent of Ukraine. Papadopoulos, the national security advisor, has admitted to lying to the FBI on communications he had during the campaign in an effort to set up a meeting between Trump’s team and Russian officials.
Papadopoulos was encouraged by a campaign supervisor to attend such a meeting, but in the end, it never took place, according to the indictment.
As of yet, the Mueller investigation has not made any public pronouncements on the collusion allegations or Russia’s attempts to manipulate the election. But in an interview Tuesday with Jay Sekulow, a personal lawyer for Trump, ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos said the Papadopoulus admission was enough.
“Collusion is cooperation with the Russians and that’s what he [Papadopoulos] was doing," Stephanopoulos said.