It seemed to be a curious question as to why Mueller announced the Russian indictments last week. The entire Special Counsel probe began as an investigation into whether the Russians hacked the 2016 U.S. elections, yet these indictments were handed down specifically last week. One suspects that they may well have been ready have been announced almost anytime. Without considering the politics attacking the Mueller’s investigation, the timing of the announcement probably was motivated by a few interesting calculations.
Robert Mueller has never let the issue of Russian hacking the 2016 election—his initial mandate—escape his focus. Mueller probably had determined the findings before he released them on Friday, but there were two events last week which impacted on his work. Both of these occurrences could work to strengthen his hand going forward.
First, last week saw the entire Washington intelligence community testify before Congress about Russian interference in the 2016 election and their expectations of similar efforts in 2018. They also suggested that there was little White House interest in any plans being formulated to bloc such interference. The intelligence chiefs were suggesting the need to counter a 2018 Russian election cyberattack, but, without leadership from the top, they expressed concern as to how effective such a program might be. With Mueller’s indictments, he was lending additional credibility to their testimony. Furthermore, Mueller also was reinforcing the intelligence community leaders charge that the President lacked a seriousness of purpose when it came to the matter of proven Russian hacking as well as his persistent efforts to deny these charges.
Second, in light of this report, as well as the President’s persistent failure to implement any sanctions against the Putin Government, Mueller took this moment to reiterate what were the precise facts as to what his investigation has so far produced. He hoped it might grant additional standing for his investigation among skeptical Trump supporters. For the American people Mueller was presenting what he had produced to date on the Russian 2016 hacking question.
The indictments worked as well to insulate Mueller–as well as Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein–as Mueller prepares for some heat and further ad hominem attacks. Mueller clearly anticipates that a confrontation will be forthcoming when, as seems likely, additional indictments are presented concerning individuals close to the President. This credible set of indictments against the Russians at this time, extended Mueller some additional protection even from some of Trump’s closest supporters.
As far as the meaning of these indictments themselves, the alleged Russians will unlikely never be extradited to stand trial in the United States. Mueller recognizes this but wanted also to give any interested Members of Congress another chance to push for more aggressive investigations of Russian hacking activity.