Yes, Trump definitely colluded.
Love Trump or hate him, you shouldn’t concede this point.
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” — Joseph Goebbels
I recently heard someone casually concede that they “believe Mueller when he says there was no Trump-Russia collusion.” No-collusion is a baldface lie that only looks like a legitimate argument because talking heads have repeated it enough times on TV.
- Collusion between Trump and Russia is clear from public evidence. To collude is a colloquial, non-legal term that we all understand to mean working secretly together towards a shared end goal. The public evidence of collusion is clear and obvious: Russia worked to influence the outcome of the US election in Trumps favor, even hacking into Clinton campaign emails on the day Trump publicly requested, and timing the release of Clinton’s data to override news cycles that were damaging to Trump. The Trump campaign developed campaigns based on secret knowledge that more wikileaks were coming (Mueller report page 54). Campaign leadership met repeatedly with Russian officials, including those they knew were Russian spies (Mueller report page 134) in response to explicit illegal offers to help elect Trump. The Trump campaign not only kept those meetings secret, but lied about them in sworn testimonies under oath. Trump’s lead campaign manager provided Russian agents with troves of US polling data. Roger Stone communicated with Guccifer 2.0, representing the Russian military cyber unit GRU, to receive and discuss “the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign”(Mueller report page 44). These are easily documented, publicly-known facts. Mueller never says that Trump did not collude with the Russians and in fact, explicitly concludes that the Trump campaign welcomed Russia’s help and tried to exploit it. Mueller never rules out the possibility that a formal agreement took shape at any of the secret meetings held between the campaign and various Russian operatives. These organizations shared the same end-goal, met repeatedly in secret, shared secret data, aligned the timing of their most important strategic efforts, and intentionally lied about their relationship. They colluded.
- Mueller does not even rule out treasonous criminal conspiracy. Mueller’s investigation explicitly looked for criminal conspiracy — an explicit quid pro quo agreement to violate or obstruct the law — which is harder to find or prove. A criminal conspiracy to alter the outcome of America’s singular national election in favor of a foreign adversary is treason. Mueller defined coordination as having some form of working agreement (“We understood coordination to require an agreement- tacit or express”) between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Mueller never finds evidence of this agreement, but given the opportunity to state definitively that it did not exist, or to exonerate the President of even this treasonous crime, he demurred: “if we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.” The fact that Mueller did not find explicit evidence of a coordination agreement or charge the President with criminal conspiracy in no way invalidates the abundance of evidence that Trump colluded with Russia.
- Partisan politicians shaped the investigation’s outcome. The fact that Mueller was not able to document sufficient evidence to charge a criminal conspiracy must be understood in the context of the balance of power and its abuse: 1) The President explicitly dangled pardons and publicly threatened witnesses. 2) Trump officials most closely linked to Russian agents (Paul Manafort, Roger Stone) successfully refused cooperation with the investigation and the President successfully avoided testifying under oath. 3) Several campaign operatives provided information that was later demonstrated to be false or incomplete, invoked the Fifth, and “deleted relevant communications” (Mueller report page 10) that would have served as evidence. 4) The President pressured and later fired career public servants who were responsible for considering the President’s crimes, including the Director and Deputy Directors of the FBI, and 5) the President appointed himself a loyalist and partisan Attorney General, a man who petitioned for the position by writing an unsolicited 20-page memo explicitly articulating his loyalty, who later went on to lie about the Mueller Report’s conclusion to the public — saying that it exonerated the President when it explicitly did not. This is like Watergate, but with successfully deleted tapes and an effective public relations campaign.
- Trump obstructed justice to reduce the pool of available evidence. Mueller acknowledges this: “Our investigation found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations.” Trump met all the elements of an obstruction offense under federal law and attempted to obstruct justice repeatedly, including pressuring the Attorney General, attempting to remove the Special Counsel, attempting to curtail the Special Counsel’s investigation, offering a pardon to Paul Manafort, and attempting to falsify the record by instructing the White House counsel to lie. It was for procedural reasons only that the Special counsel did not charge Trump, leaving the responsibility to prosecute to a partisan Attorney General, the responsibility to impeach to a hamstrung Congress. Trump has not been indicted for obstruction of justice only because of his power, not his innocence.
The election is done; Trump is inaugurated. Even though data shows Russia’s effort almost certainly shifted the outcome of the 2016 election in Trump’s favor, I don’t propose we re-litigate that decision. But to look forward, we need to acknowledge the consequences of the current situation.
For starters, there is a profound institutional, constitutional and parliamentary risk that is fundamentally conservative. The American promise is built on the understanding that our elections are free and fair, conducted according to strict legal standards, and the outcomes are the independent result of voters decisions. We build that promise on the rule of law, the idea that all entities, public and private, including the State and the President be accountable to the same laws, publicly promulgated, equally enforced, independently adjudicated. Power should not exonerate.
Further, collusion between these parties makes it likely that Russia has leverage over the President that the American public cannot see — this concern has been voiced by tenured CIA, FBI and State Department officials and acknowledged by Mueller explicitly. Russia may have leverage to pressure Trump to favor Russia over American interests. We should not be surprised to observe that Trump’s ascent to power helped to advance Russia’s geopolitical interests at the expense of the United States and global peace. This has already resulted in a 180 degree turn in White House relations towards the Kremlin; the explicit questioning of US willingness to defend NATO against Russian attacks; US exit from the Paris agreement; the diplomatic concession of Crimea; and advocacy for Russian re-inclusion in the G7. Every last one of these goes in direct contrast to counsel from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and highest brass of the State Department, and is directly aligned to Russia’s strategic geopolitical interests. If you think re-starting the nuclear arms race is good for America, you’ve never won a high-stakes competition and then been asked for a do-over. If Russia has leverage over the Commander in Chief, every American is at risk.
We must acknowledge, grapple with, and remain profoundly disturbed by the evidence that the President coordinated with the Russian government to put himself in power, obstructed justice to protect himself, and continues to lie about it. Russia organized and funded a massive illegal, fully-staffed, tech-savvy influence campaign, which drove an outcome that Russia and a minority of Americans wanted, but a majority of American voters did not. This is the inversion of democracy. If the Kremlin can change the outcome of our very limited democratic decisions and if any President is allowed to obstruct justice and subvert election laws, the core American promise is compromised at the highest level.
It is a well-known fascist propaganda strategy for a leader repeat a lie over and over again until the people believe it is true. How you respond to the repetition of “no collusion” matters. In an educated and empowered democracy, we expose the liar and discredit the lie. Under fascism, we accept the lie as truth.