Will Trump raise this with Putin? Don’t bet on it
It was an extraordinary split-screen moment. On one side, Donald Trump was meeting the Queen. On the other, the US deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, was simultaneously indicting 12 Russian spies for hacking and leaking the emails of Democrats during the 2016 presidential election campaign.
The timing of these latest indictments by the special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, seems distinctly mischievous. And they heap pressure on Trump before his meeting on Monday in Helsinki with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, the man to whom the GRU intelligence agency and its generals ultimately answer.
For two years, Trump has equivocated in the face of a simple question: did Moscow hack the US election to help him win and to damage Hillary Clinton?
But Mueller’s latest indictments lay out the facts in granular detail. The document describes how a group of career Russian spies in Moscow systematically hacked into the Democratic National Committee. It was a textbook deception operation, featuring fake persons, hidden cryptocurrency payments and easy-to-do spear phishing.
During his meeting with Putin, Trump could demand the extradition of the 12 GRU officers. If Trump does not ask, he will be failing to stand up for US interests in the face of a cyberattack by a foreign power. If he does call for extradition, it acknowledges that Mueller’s investigation into collusion between his campaign and Russia is not a “witch-hunt”.
All the signs are that Trump will continue to deny Moscow’s meddling. Rosenstein said yesterday that he told the president several days ago of the latest indictment. Trump appears to have ignored it. On Thursday, at the Nato summit in Brussels, he flattered Putin again.
The indictment raises further intriguing questions as to how the US discovered the identities and precise ranks of the 12 GRU officers.
It seems likely that US intelligence agencies carried out extensive counter-hacking and intercept measures of their own. And relied on input from America’s European allies including Britain – the same allies that Trump denigrated on Thursday during his astonishing attack on Nato countries for what he sees as military underspending.
Seemingly, the US intelligence community – regularly attacked by Trump as a malevolent force – is good at its job.