The Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee says the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and several companies for interfering in the 2016 election shows Special Counsel Robert Mueller is on the right track.
“This is exactly what we wanted him to do,” Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina said Sunday, asserting that “for those of us who’ve supported Bob Mueller from day one, and said give him the time and resources and the independence to do his job — this is his job.”
“What this indictment tells us,” Mr. Gowdy added, “is that Russia is not our friend. Russia has tried to subvert the fundamentals of our democracy.”
The congressman made the comments on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” two days after the special counsel probe resulted in Justice Department indictments against the Russian nationals and three companies.
The indictment accuses the Russians of organizing an operation that employed more than 80 people, who created fake identities and stole others from actual U.S. citizens to develop a massive online presence and even stage rallies in an attempt to “sow discord” in the election.
Prosecutors said the conspiracy dated back to 2014, well before either President Trump or Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton were officially candidates. But the indictment says that by 2016, the operation was specifically “supporting” the campaign of “then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton.”
Mr. Trump has responded by claiming the meddling didn’t change the outcome of the election, and asserting that the indictments shows there was “no collusion” between his campaign and any Russian officials — an allegation Democrats have been pushing over the past year.
“Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President,” Mr. Trump tweeted Friday afternoon. “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong — no collusion!”
Mr. Trump has repeatedly called the allegations of Russian meddling a “hoax.”
Mr. Gowdy sought to put a less political spin on the situation Sunday, asserting that “Americans are the victims of what Russia did, not Republicans, not Democrats. All of us are victims.”
“In this particular instance, [Russia] used the Clinton campaign,” the South Carolina Republican said. “They tried to disparage her campaign. Next cycle it could be a Republican.”
He added that Moscow is “definitely going to try it again.”
“I’ve known all along that Russia tried to subvert our 2016 election and they’re going to do the same thing in 2020 and every election thereafter unless and until we do what the indictment says, which is why we view this as America being the victim,” Mr. Gowdy said.
As for why Congress has yet to pass legislation to put in place specific “safeguards” that might deter future election meddling or prevent it from having an impact, Mr. Gowdy said: “Congress doesn’t regulate state elections.”
But he suggested American social media companies should take a greater role in identifying and scrubbing fake news and disinformation from their platforms, asserting that he’s pushed the issue during hearings on Capitol Hill. “I asked Twitter, I asked Facebook, how does a functioning democracy benefit from false information?” the congressman said. “I got silence.”
He noted the situation’s potential sensitivity as a constitutional issue. “[It’s] a First Amendment issue when you begin to regulate information,” Mr. Gowdy said, adding that “I would tell all my fellow citizens, be really skeptical of anything you read on social media and do your own independent research.”