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Milbank writes: "Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's indictment of 13 Russians over their alleged efforts to elect Donald Trump set off a presidential paroxysm of self-exoneration."

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. (photo: Reuters)
Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. (photo: Reuters)

Putin's Useful Idiots

By Dana Milbank, The Washington Post

24 February 18


pecial counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s indictment of 13 Russians over their alleged efforts to elect Donald Trump set off a presidential paroxysm of self-exoneration.

“The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong — no collusion!” President Trump proclaimed in one of his saner tweets of the past four days.

In fact, the Mueller investigation is ongoing and has offered no such conclusions. But what Mueller did expose last week should sicken us all: Vladimir Putin has played Americans across the political spectrum for suckers. In particular, the Russian dictator has turned Trump supporters into the useful idiots of the 21st century.

The phrase “useful idiots,” often attributed to an earlier Vladimir, referred to Westerners who had been successfully manipulated by Soviet propaganda. But even Lenin would have to smile at the way Putin exploited Americans in 2016 to support Trump, or at least to oppose Hillary Clinton. Mueller’s indictment is full of nauseating detail about how Putin made fools of Americans.

Using Facebook groups such as “Being Patriotic,” they organized “March for Trump” and “Down with Hillary” rallies in New York, “Florida Goes Trump” rallies in Florida and “Miners for Trump” rallies in Pennsylvania, among others.

They attracted more than 100,000 followers to a Twitter account falsely claiming to be controlled by the Tennessee Republican Party, @TEN_GOP, and got hundreds of thousands of online followers for groups they created such as “Army of Jesus” and “South United.”

They paid Americans to build a cage on a flatbed truck and to wear a Clinton-in-prison-garb costume. To whip up anti-Muslim fervor to Trump’s benefit, they created a Facebook group called “United Muslims of America” and promoted a rally called “Support Hillary. Save American Muslims,” at which they recruited an actual American to hold a sign saying, “I think Sharia Law will be a powerful new direction of freedom.”

They promoted Trump-friendly hashtags (#MAGA, #Hillary4Prison), created pro-Trump accounts (“Trumpsters United”) and paid for election ads saying, among other things, “Vote Republican, vote Trump, and support the Second Amendment!” and “Hillary is a Satan, and her crimes and lies had proved just how evil she is.”

Putin’s meddling, now exposed, should shame us and unify us in a response. But that won’t happen, because the most useful idiot of all happens to be the president, who is focused only on himself.

In his fit of self-absolution over the holiday weekend, Trump pointed fingers in every direction except Moscow. He went after Barack Obama, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), Clinton, his own national security adviser, the FBI, CNN — even Oprah Winfrey. He used foul language. He made up facts. He retweeted a cartoon from a now-suspended account already famous for a racist cartoon during the election.

Rather than condemning or countering what the Russians themselves called “information warfare against the United States,” Trump decided to respond with his own pro-Trump information warfare. Upon hearing that there had been a Russian “troll farm” sowing crops in America, he reacted by reminding everybody that he is the Cargill of troll farming.

Perhaps, given the president’s level of intellectual curiosity, he heard Russian “troll farm” on cable news and assumed these trolls were similar to those gentle creatures in the 2016 DreamWorks animated film “Trolls.” But these Russian trolls are not adorable figurines with colorful hair, and their attack on the United States cannot be answered with hugs. These trolls paid actual Americans to attend rallies. They bought ads to allege that Clinton “committed voter fraud.” They manipulated the Black Lives Matter movement by creating groups and accounts such as “Blacktivist” and “Woke Blacks,” attempting to persuade African Americans to support the Green Party’s Jill Stein or not to vote rather than “to vote Killary.” The Russians even had the nerve to charge real Americans to post promotional material on the phony accounts.

The Russians also used fake identities “to communicate with unwitting members, volunteers, and supporters of the Trump Campaign involved in local community outreach, as well as grassroots groups that supported then-candidate Trump.”

“Unwitting.” Trump and his defenders take that as exoneration, even though it is limited to just this aspect of the probe. But it’s another way of saying they were useful idiots.

Thanks to Mueller, they are now witting. Trump, in his refusal to respond to this Russian attack, continues to play the useful idiot, because it suits his selfish purposes. Will his supporters also continue to let Putin play them for fools? your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

-29 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-02-24 12:54
"Vladimir Putin has played Americans across the political spectrum for suckers. In particular, the Russian dictator has turned Trump supporters into the useful idiots of the 21st century."

Oh yeah, right! Dana Millbank was a long time ago a good journalist. Not anymore. The adverts and web posts alleged to have come from Russia amounted to .004% of the adverts run on Facebook. Only 44% appeared before the election. If Americans across the political spectrum can be "played" by .004% of adverts, then I will follow Russia's lead, run 1400 adverts many with pictures of cute puppies and kittens, and elect a genuine democratic socialist in 2020.

Everything described by Millbank above happens on the web 1000s of times every day. Most internet users are accustomed to it and only look with minimal curiosity. One advert is cancelled out by another. Most internet users above the age of 12 have always been witting. They know that 99% of adverts on the web are bullshit.

Why does Millbank not concentrated on really massive propaganda put out by the Alliance to Secure Democracy, Correct the Record, or

The only "useful idiot" I see right now is Dana Millbank.
-32 # wantrealdemocracy 2018-02-24 14:36
You are playing the people of the United States as fools. You are still supporting the Democrats and their candidate who LOST the election without any help from Russia. Trump won both the popular vote and the vote of the electoral college. Hilary lost fair and square.
+14 # wrknight 2018-02-24 20:09
1. Well, the fact that Trump is president is prima facia evidence that a lot of Americans are fools.

2. Yes, the Dems lost, but no one has proved that the Russian's mischief had any effect at all. (And probably, no one ever will.) In all likelihood, Hillary was her own worst enemy in the campaign.

3. Yes, Trump won the electoral college vote. No, Trump didn't win the popular vote any more than he had the largest inauguration crowd in history. (You need to check your facts.)
+10 # ericlipps 2018-02-25 14:58
Trump LOST the popular vote, period, no matter how many times the Donald rattles on about millions of illegal votes cast for Hillary. (In his mind, it seems, ANY vote cast for someone other than him is illegal by definition.)
+26 # wrknight 2018-02-24 14:37
"Useful idiots" applies to everyone who fails to use their brains when reading or listening to anything or anyone; and that probably applies to the majority of the American electorate - those who didn't vote as well as those who did vote.

There's an age old saw, "buyer beware" and that's because there lots of people who are able and willing to exploit other's stupidity. "I'll sell you anything if you're dumb enough to buy it."

Well, what can I say? American voters (at least a large number of them) bought it.
-26 # PABLO DIABLO 2018-02-24 14:48
And, what evidence do you have that Putin was behind this?
-1 # wrknight 2018-02-24 19:57
None, so far. And who paid for it? Were these guys paid in rubles or dollars?
-11 # yolo 2018-02-24 14:50
And the Washington Post and Dana Milbank are useful idiots of the economic royalists. As FDR once said,
"We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob."
The WP is seeking to influence we the people into believing that Russia and Putin are our enemies but we are not falling for it. It is they "the old enemies of peace" that the WP is a part of.
+11 # librarian1984 2018-02-24 14:54
The indictment also says these Russians ran campaigns in SUPPORT of Hillary and had a site about kittens, and this same group was exposed two years ago in a NYT article -- yet now it's a big reveal

Mueller is still working. Maybe he'll find more, but this has to be disappointing to many. If Mueller exonerates Trump what will the left, having placed so much trust in this investigation, do? Say it can't be true? Denounce the FBI again? This is not resistance. It is hysteria.

Secondly, Milbank does the same thing many so-called journalists are doing: 'Putin's meddling'? Putin is not indicted. He is not named. Maybe a connection will be found but this indictment specifically denies it -- yet professional journalists routinely misrepresent the facts and significance of this story.

I realize people really really want proof Trump colluded, envisioning a glorious impeachment that will usher in a new era of freedom and prosperity. But WANTING is not the same as reality. While we follow every development and indulge in fantasies the press has totally lost it, TPTB are doing their best to start a war with a nuclear power and we are neglecting any meaningful resistance.

Frankly I don't take anything on the net at face value, don't place my faith in the FBI -- and worry more about the CIA than the inane antics of Russian trolls.

We're bombing 8 countries and plan to use low yield nukes. Can we possibly spare a moment to think about THAT?
+7 # ericlipps 2018-02-25 15:01
Actually, speaking as someone who despises Trump, I DON'T want to see him impeached, since hat would put a fundamentalist crank who LOOKS FORWARD TO the end of the world in a position to make it happen.
0 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-02-26 08:49
eric -- I agree with you on this. I don't want Trump impeached. That would only strengthen republicans and Pence. Trump should be soundly defeated in 2020 by a good democratic socialist from the reformed democratic party. That would be the best possible outcome.
+22 # Elroys 2018-02-24 15:00
This all sounds about right - idiots useful to Russia and Putin, useful for those who want to destroy our democracy and control the POTi (President of The Idiots). We have been fooled, brainwashed and used to promote the values most of detest and would never knowingly embrace - unless your name is Donald Trump.
With only months between now and November 18th, and with a president who claims this is all bullshit / hoax, a president who will not only lie to all the world about this but will prevent our national security apparatus from doing anything about it. We have Twitter, Facebook and Google (and others) who just might be more interested in their short term profits than in the well being of America. So, what do we do about this as a people? He's my answer, and it's easy, no cost, no bull: IN NOVEMBER 2018 ELECTIONS, vote only for those with a "D" in front of their names. Certainly, there are some "D"s who would not normally be my own 1st choice. However, these times are so strange, and the "R"s are now united in their collusion and corruption, their slovenly adherence to Trump's madness and their own puppet masters - major donors - that not one can be trusted to put America first. So, the most effective solution that every single American can easily do: Vote. Vote for the candidate with a "D" in front of their name. And then, really hold their feet to the fire - and kick their ass if they wander.
+33 # Working Class 2018-02-24 15:09
So I don't understand the big deal of Russians sowing false and misleading information in the US. I am surprised FOX has not filed suite against the Russians for infringing into their area of expertise.
+10 # RLF 2018-02-25 07:41
The Russians may have influenced this election but the Heritage foundation has been creating the misinformation that has stupidified the American electorate since 1968 or so. We have no one to blame for this mess except the American Oligarchy.
0 # Working Class 2018-02-25 21:41
I could not agree more Brother. I good read on this is "The Republican Noise Machine" by David Brock.
+2 # REDPILLED 2018-02-24 15:28
For different and more critical perspectives, see these:
-14 # Mainiac 2018-02-24 15:35
Wait just a minute! Just because a group of Russians formed an organization that meddled in American politics does not mean they did so on orders from Putin. An oligarch, rich from the looting of their country made possible by Yeltsin and the CIA, provided the backing for these “useful idiots.” Where, tell me,is the proof that Putin had a role in this?
+14 # Blackjack 2018-02-24 15:37
Idiots are idiots and that's what we have been growing in this country for decades. Trump, the Charlatan in Chief, playing people for fame and money, got played himself and is such an idiot that he doesn't realize it, or maybe just doesn't care because it suits his purpose of turning this country into his personal dictatorship. Added to that were the easily manipulated evangelicals, who, waiting for the Rapture to take them to everlasting salvation, were further manipulated to believe that Trump/Pence could be their saviors until the Rapture occurred. No wonder Putin was so successful. Unfortunately, these are the very people who are likely to be unswayed by any evidential truth that the Mueller investigation reveals. The Repukes just can't bring themselves to trust anything that Mueller reveals because they, too, are benefitting from things just the way they are. Are there enough Dems who can actually reinforce their backbones soon enough to get a grip on reality and convince enough people that the democracy we have left cannot withstand more of this same political garbage with these same political players? Wish I could say and unequivocal "yes," but I'm not there yet!
0 # MendoChuck 2018-02-24 15:41
Thank You Dana you say it so well.
To bad but neither the right nor the left seem to understand what really happened.
The only thing that seems to have remained from the mess the Russians created is the division.
Even knowing that this is in fact actually happened the division seems to remain and has just gotten deeper.
The growth of sites like RSN illustrates the Russian success like nothing else. Your writing seems to be the closest RSN comes to actually really pointing out how there were no winners. America seems to get further apart we get dig ourselves deeper into believing that only this opinion and not that opinion is right.
Compromise has become a dirty word when it used to be what tied us together.
The common ground we once shared is disappearing like our coast line and the ocean gets warmer and deeper like our separate thoughts.
I hope our institutions are as strong as they need to be and we come out of this mess even stronger.
If I was into religion this would be the time to pray.
Thank you again Dana for pointing out the obvious.
+15 # Jaax88 2018-02-24 15:55
Whoa. Now the facts are being disclosed. Pretty damning on the chief useful idiot
in America and devastating to think Americans can be deluded into believing in the Russian game and intentional disruptions. Thanks for bring this out so clearly
-6 # librarian1984 2018-02-24 23:12
How is this damning to Trump OR Putin? The indictment explicitly says no one from Trump's campaign knowingly gave information to trolls.

Maybe future revelations will connect Putin and/or Trump to these trolls but this indictment does not do so.
0 # Lgfoot 2018-02-25 16:04
The indictment does not say that no one from Trump's campaign knowingly gave information to the trolls, it says that it doesn't allege that they did. Big difference. More to come.
0 # librarian1984 2018-02-28 03:16
It would be more helpful if you would specify what the 'big difference' is.

Does that mean even if Mueller doesn't name Trump or Putin we're not supposed to assume innocence? So this will never be over, in your mind, or are you saying something else?
+13 # relegn 2018-02-25 07:01
Putin may have played American voters for suckers recently but Wealthy Americans and Corporate Interests have played Americans for suckers since the election of Ronald Reagan. Remember that Wealthy Americans were the majority of the voters that gave us our Supreme Leader and they didn't need help from Putin.
-4 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-02-25 07:40
The really dangerous part of all of this Russiagate nonsense is that the FBI is now asking congress for $300,000 to "secure" the 2018 and 2020 elections. In essence, the FBI will take over how elections are run. This would include all campaigns and the voting process itself.

The FBI is the most corrupt government agency in the US. (I exclude the CIA since I'm saying "in the US.") There is no doubt it would sabotage campaigns of truly independent or socialist candidates. It was created to subvert and destroy communism. And very likely voting machine tampering, voter registration lists, and all forms of voter suppression would become dramatically worse.

The $300 million to the FBI is being pushed by Schumer and Pelosi.

If a corrupt organization like the FBI were to take over elections, could we call it anything other than tyranny? The FBI is not partisan. There are both republicans and democrats in it. Parties don't matter. The FBI is ideological and class based. It exists to insure the control of the oligarchs and to keep all outsiders suppressed.

I'd gladly take a little Russian meddling over FBI meddling.
+3 # ericlipps 2018-02-25 15:06
Aaaand here it is at last: a confession that you APPROVE of Russian election-tamper ing as long as it keeps people like Hillary Clinton out of power. The FBI, on the other hand, you apparently fear was in the tank for Hillary and remains so, despite the testimony of those in a position to know that the Bureau was (and is) pro-Trump.
-1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-02-26 08:52
That's not quite it. I said I would take "a little" Russian meddling over total FBI control of US elections.

In other words, I want openness and freedom in elections instead of control by our Gestapo. I'd take a little meddling over a Gestapo run election process.

$300 million is only the camel's nose under the tent. If this goes through, the FBI will be getting billions of dollars to run US elections.
0 # Robbee 2018-02-25 19:03
Quoting Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-02-25 07:40:
I'd gladly take a little Russian meddling over FBI meddling.

- okay, we heard you every day already? you're "russia with love" for putin? - how much is the "little Russian meddling" you prefer?

hundreds of trolls in troll farms in st. petersburg?

putin's lockbox of evidence of dickhead's russian misadventures?

white supremacist governments in europe and america?

russian bankers attending nra conventions?

russian oligarchs laundering tens of millions into american election campaigns?

russians hacking and publishing dnc emails?

russians flipping votes?

please be precise, what do you want putin to do?

draw a bright line or mark all items you endorse, thanks!

you talk and talk and what comes out is exactly what putin wants us to hear - "these are not the droids you are looking for!" - "The Russians did not add even a scintilla to the viciousness of American politics. They did not divide anyone. They did not sow any discord." the russians are pure as the driven snow! putin has nothing to do with troll farms! putin has no interest in electing dickhead! russia has no oligarchs! russians love america as they are told! yada! yada!

\is there any boundary to your putin support? or are you not allowed to discuss it?
+2 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-02-27 17:19
robbee -- wake up. The real meddling in the US elections comes from Israel, Saudi Arabia, UK, Ukraine, EU, and more nations. Hillary was openly supported by nearly 100 current and past national leaders, including Tony Blair.

I recommend to you this article for a fuller presentation:

When Will Congress Investigate All Interference in Elections?

By Philip M. Giraldi

Please don't suggest that my critique of other meddling is in any way support for Trump or Putin. I'm just saying that the FBI has been interfering in US elections for 75 years and I'm much more worried about that than I am about what Putin did not do.

this whole debate needs some moderation and reason. Your claims are extremist.
0 # librarian1984 2018-02-28 00:01
James Clapper was asked, 'Doesn't the United States interfere in other countries' elections too?'

Clapper laughed and said, 'When there's a good reason.'
0 # MikeAF48 2018-02-26 12:44
Russia if you are listening we have 30,000 e-mails. I just can't remember where I heard that. Help me please.
+1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-02-27 17:12
You know where you heard it.

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