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Mueller Report? What Mueller Report? As U.S. Scrutinizes Document, Moscow Claims 'More Important Things To Do'

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov (file photo)

MOSCOW -- On April 18, Russian talk show presenter Artem Sheinin faced the cameras to deliver a quote from Leo Tolstoy.

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," he said.

As the world waited for the release of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russia's role in the 2016 presidential vote -- and whether Donald Trump's campaign conspired with Russia to get him elected -- the popular state TV host summed up the Kremlin narrative.

“The American family has problems; they chose a president over two years ago, and ever since they’ve been trying to oust him,” Sheinin said.

Moscow has issued multiple denials in the face of accusations that it meddled in the U.S. election, seemingly seeking to obscure the mounting evidence made public by U.S. prosecutors and media outlets with mockery of partisan feuding on Capitol Hill.

So by the time a redacted version of Mueller’s full report was published on April 18, Russian officials, pro-Kremlin pundits, and state media outlets may have felt they’d made their argument clear. In the event, they were ready with a mix of studied disinterest and well-practiced disdain.

“This is not an issue for us. It is not a thing that interests us or causes us concern," President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters, adding that the Kremlin has “more interesting and important things to do.”

Kremlin officials would "leaf through" the report when they get around to it, he suggested, to determine whether it contains “something worthy of analysis.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report
Special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report

It seems few in Washington would deny there’s plenty of that. At 448 pages, the Mueller report outlines in painstaking detail the various aspects of Russia’s intrusive role, listing findings that match those of the U.S. intelligence community and concluding: "The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”

The two-year investigation has led to the indictment of a dozen Russian military intelligence officers charged with orchestrating the hacking and theft of Democratic party e-mails released during the campaign, among other foreign actors deemed to have aided the effort.

But some in the Russian government, as well as on social media, cast the conclusions of the sweeping and far-ranging investigation as a pretext to attack their country. And apparently, to make money in the process.

“It’s not even funny anymore,” a Twitter user with the handle Nikolai, whose profile description is the single word "patriot," tweeted in response to a post about the Mueller report by Margarita Simonyan, editor of the Russian state TV channel RT. “We couldn’t give a damn about the under-the-carpet scheming between American parties.”

“What can I say, $35 million was delicately wasted,” user Vladimir Safronov wrote in a tweet replying to a similarly jeering post by Aleksei Pushkov, a senior lawmaker in the upper house of parliament. Safronkov added sarcastically: “But they have no corruption!”

Aleksei Pushkov (file photo)
Aleksei Pushkov (file photo)

As if to bring the point home, Russia’s flagship news channel reported on April 19 that Mueller’s report has already topped Amazon’s best-seller list.

Shortly afterwards, Peskov followed up his dismissal of the report with a more extensive denouncement of the protracted investigation that led to its release.

“We said from the start that regardless of what investigators focus on, they will not find evidence of meddling,” he said. “This publication confirms that once again.”

“Over here, such a document would probably be of interest to the Audit Chamber, based on what taxpayers’ money was spent on,” he added, referring to a state financial oversight agency. “But I’ll leave it to U.S. taxpayers to ask that question.”

Meanwhile, a prominent prime-time talk-show host led his evening program on April 18 not with the Mueller report, but with the presidential election in Ukraine -- the number one topic for Russian state media in the lead-up to the April 21 runoff.

Opening the show on the state-run Rossia-1 channel, Vladimir Solovyov clapped his hands in anticipation of the stadium debate scheduled between incumbent Petro Poroshenko and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the candidates in that vote.

While the subject was not the United States, the tone was equally mocking.

“Tickets are sold out, and sober-minded people -- if they still exist [in Ukraine] -- fear provocations,” he said. ”But the show will not be cancelled -- because otherwise there'll be nothing left of Ukrainian politics.”

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    Matthew Luxmoore

    Matthew Luxmoore is a Moscow-based journalist covering Russia and the former Soviet Union. He has reported for The New York Times in Moscow and has written for The Guardian, Politico, The New Republic, and Foreign Policy. He’s a graduate of Harvard’s Davis Center and a recipient of New York University's Reporting Award and the Fulbright Alistair Cooke Journalism Award.