Senator Joseph R. McCarthy frequently accused the reporters who stood up to his broad-brush anti-communist campaign in the 1950s of being Russian “dupes.” But who are the Russian “dupes” now?
President Donald Trump, whose efforts to delegitimize the “fake news” media echo McCarthy’s attacks, is left to take refuge in the notion that his election campaign operatives were no more than “unwitting” tools of Russian propagandists. “NO COLLUSION!”
That is the shallow victory the president claimed from the very detailed indictment that special counsel Robert Mueller signed last week to charge the Internet Research Agency and thirteen Russians with a conspiracy to defraud the United States: to be no worse than a dupe.
In McCarthy’s time, it was cold comfort to be called a “dupe” since the Republican senator tended to pair the unwitting with the “traitors,” insisting that both “had to be exposed”—including “well-meaning dupes of the Kremlin.”
The indictment does indeed suggest that as of June 2016, the Russian electioneering enterprise lacked the kind of strategic guidance that could have come from the lowest-level Trump campaign employee, or for that matter, anyone who watched five minutes of cable TV news. It says that the Russians, posing online as American activists, learned from a grassroots organization in Texas that efforts to sway the election in favor of Trump and against Hillary Clinton would be most effective if pursued in battleground states. If that was new information for the conspirators after two years of planning, this seems the most solid evidence to date for Trump’s case that his campaign did not conspire with Russian interference in the election. But that’s not the whole story.