Mueller's report just destroyed Trump's last line of defense — here's how
President Donald Trump in the Oval Office (screengrab)

One of President Donald Trump’s last remaining lines of defense has been that Russia never really changed the outcome of the election. It was still the American people who voted in the end, the argument goes. But that claim has been cast into doubt following the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings.

But, writes Philip Bump of the Washington Post, the Mueller report actually reveals the opposite. "It may be — and appears to be — true that Russia didn't manipulate actual voting results," says Bump, "but Russia's efforts absolutely affected the vote, as they were intended to — and as Trump and his campaign hoped they would."

"Mueller's indictments against a number of alleged Russian intelligence agents details how they accessed the Democratic National Committee network and Podesta's email account (among other targets) and transferred the data to WikiLeaks," said Bump. "There, the stolen material became a central component of the election coverage for much of the last month," and even though the hacked Democratic emails didn't really show anything damning or incriminating about Clinton or her associates, they were treated as a huge story, drowning out coverage of Trump's "Access Hollywood" tape bragging about assaulting women.

Based on the Mueller report, writes Bump, "The campaign knew that WikiLeaks was releasing material damaging to Clinton, prompting Trump to praise the organization frequently that October," they believed it would help their campaign." And public polling at the time showed 37 percent of voters would be less likely to vote for Clinton due to WikiLeaks.

The claim that Russian involvement didn't affect the race "is particularly indefensible coming from Trump, who celebrated WikiLeaks publicly precisely because he knew it would help his candidacy. He knew it and Mueller knew it," Bump concludes. "It was, after all, one of the key reasons that Russia was interfering in the election in the first place."