HOUSTON ( FOX 26) - This week's panel: Jared Woodfill - conservative activist, Nyanza Moore - progressive commentator and Houston attorney, Tony Diaz- Chicano educator and activist, Marcus Davis - host of "Sunday Morning Live", Bill King - businessman, columnist and former Kemah Mayor, and Jessica Colon - Republican strategist., join Greg Groogan to discuss the recent indictments against Russian operatives.
WASHINGTON (AP) - Special counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians and three Russian companies on Friday with interfering in the 2016 election by assuming U.S. identities, sowing discord on social media, communicating with unwitting Americans and even setting up political rallies from afar.
President Donald Trump tweeted that the indictment proves there was "no collusion!" with Russia. The White House repeated that point, sending out a statement with "NO COLLUSION" in all caps.
What does the indictment mean for Trump? Here are a few key takeaways from the indictment:
WHAT WERE THE CHARGES?
The indictment alleges that starting in 2014, the Russian Internet Research Agency tried to disrupt the U.S. political system and sow discord by stealing U.S. identities and falsely claiming to be U.S. activists. Specifically, the indictment charges the individuals with conspiring "to obstruct the lawful functions of the United States government through fraud and deceit," by making illegal campaign expenditures, failing to register as foreign agents and using false statements to try and obtain visas. Some are also charged with wire fraud and identity theft.
By early-to-mid 2016, the indictment says, their efforts included supporting President Donald Trump's campaign and disparaging Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The indictment says the Internet Research Agency was funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a St. Petersburg businessman dubbed "Putin's chef" because his restaurants and catering businesses once hosted the Kremlin leader's dinners with foreign dignitaries. It was also funded by companies he controlled, it alleges.
Trump is right that there is no evidence of collusion in the indictment that was announced Friday. It doesn't mention collusion at all. But that doesn't mean the matter is settled, because Mueller's investigation is continuing.
Along with several congressional investigations, Mueller's investigation began with the question of whether anyone on Trump's campaign colluded with Russians who meddled in the 2016 campaign. The indictment released Friday doesn't include any evidence that they did.
It alleges that on at least three instances, Russians using false U.S. personas contacted campaign officials associated with Trump's campaign in Florida. Those officials are identified as "Campaign Official 1, Campaign Official 2 and Campaign Official 3."
The indictment doesn't say if any of them responded, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a news conference shortly after it was released that "there is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity."
Rosenstein noted that the Russians "took extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary American political activists."
IMPACT ON ELECTION RESULTS?
Mueller's indictment doesn't mention the possible impact of the Russian effort. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a press conference announcing the charges that "there is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election."
Trump went further in a tweet Friday, writing: "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."
Though some Democrats have opined that Russian interference could have swayed the results, there's been no evidence that it did. In an assessment after the election, the U.S. intelligence community described a Russian government effort to interfere on Trump's behalf. But they didn't assert that it swayed the election.
WHO WERE THE RUSSIANS HELPING?
Most of the Russian election efforts detailed in the indictment are to help Trump's campaign, though the document is carefully worded, saying that their operations "included" supporting Trump and disparaging Clinton.
The indictment also alleges that the Russians tried to denigrate Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who ran against Trump in the GOP primary, and to support Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was running against Clinton in the Democratic primary.
According to one internal communication detailed in the indictment, the specialists were instructed to "use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump_we support them)."
And according to one internal review, a specialist was criticized for having a low number of posts criticizing Clinton. The person was told "it is imperative to intensify criticizing Hillary Clinton" in future posts.
After the election, the indictment alleges that the Russians organized rallies both in favor of and opposing Trump.
AN ELABORATE PLAN
The indictment alleges detailed, intricate plans to wage what the Russians called "information warfare" against the United States.
Beyond detailed efforts to appear as Americans through emails and social media posts, and organizing real rallies, at least two of those charged actually traveled to the United States and visited several states, posing as political activists.
They also paid Americans to carry out their objectives. Ahead of a Florida rally, the Russians asked one person to build a cage on a flatbed truck and another to wear a costume portraying Clinton in a prison uniform, according to the indictment.
The indictment says: "Defendants and their co-conspirators paid these individuals to complete the requests."
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Venting his fury over the Russia investigation, President Donald Trump on Sunday asserted that the Obama administration bears some blame for the election meddling, insisted he never denied that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 U.S. campaign and said "they are laughing their asses off in Moscow."
In a rapid-fire series of tweets from his Palm Beach estate, the president unloaded over the Russia investigation, days after an indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians with a plot to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.
While the nearby town of Parkland, Florida, continues to mourn a school shooting that left 17 dead, Russia was clearly top of mind for the president. The administration has focused on the fact that the Russian effort began in 2014, before Trump announced his White House run, and Trump continued that argument Sunday.
He said the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, California Rep. Adam Schiff - calling him "Liddle' Adam Schiff, the leakin' monster of no control" - "is now blaming the Obama Administration for Russian meddling in the 2016 Election."
Trump appeared to be referring to an interview Schiff did with NBC in which the lawmaker said the previous administration should have set up a "more forceful deterrent" against cyberattacks after the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures.
Obama in late 2016 defended his administration's response to the Russian meddling, also saying he had confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin that September, telling him to "cut it out."
Trump has not been seen in public since he arrived at his Florida club late Friday, after a visit to the community shattered by the shooting. That evening, he met with first responders, medical personnel and some victims. He skipped his usual stop at his nearby golf course Saturday, but planned to meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on Sunday at Mar-a-Lago to discuss legislative priorities.
Trump did find time to use the Florida shooting to criticize the FBI, saying in a tweet late Saturday that the bureau "missed all of the many signals" sent by the suspect and arguing that agents are "spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign."
"Get back to the basics and make us all proud!" he said.
The FBI received a tip last month that the man now charged in the school shooting had a "desire to kill" and access to guns and could be plotting an attack. But the agency said Friday that agents failed to investigate.
In his Russia-related posts Sunday, Trump asserted that he "never said Russia did not meddle in the election," and added: "The Russian 'hoax' was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia - it never did!"
The president has repeatedly expressed skepticism over the Russian election meddling. In November, he said he believed the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that there had been meddling. But Trump also said he believed Putin was sincere when he said Russia didn't interfere.
Trump also argued Sunday that the ongoing investigations are just what the Russians want, saying: "Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!"
On Saturday, Trump undercut his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, after he said evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 American election is beyond dispute.
Trump tweeted that McMaster left out some details: "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!"
Trump was continuing his efforts to pin Russian collusion on the Democrats and their nominee Hillary Clinton. On Sunday morning he continued along those lines, stressing his 2016 victory.
"Crooked Hillary Clinton, lost the 2016 election," Trump said. "But wasn't I a great candidate?"
Trump also raged against law enforcement over an Obama-era payment to Iran. He tweeted that he's "never gotten over the fact that Obama was able to send $1.7 Billion Dollars in CASH to Iran and nobody in Congress, the FBI or Justice called for an investigation!"
The Obama administration transferred the money to Iran in 2016, using non-U.S. currency. The administration said it was the settlement of a decades-old arbitration claim between the countries. An initial payment was delivered the same day Tehran agreed to release four American prisoners.
The Obama administration eventually acknowledged the cash was used as leverage until the Americans were allowed to leave Iran. Congressional Republicans decried the payment as ransom, which the Obama administration denied.