Thanks to Paul Waldman at the Washington Post, we now know what it looks like if you delete everything Trump said in his recent interview with the New York Times except for his references to collusion.
“Frankly there is absolutely no collusion…Virtually every Democrat has said there is no collusion. There is no collusion…I think it’s been proven that there is no collusion…I can only tell you that there is absolutely no collusion…There’s been no collusion…There was no collusion. None whatsoever…everybody knows that there was no collusion. I saw Dianne Feinstein the other day on television saying there is no collusion [note: not true]…The Republicans, in terms of the House committees, they come out, they’re so angry because there is no collusion…there was collusion on behalf of the Democrats. There was collusion with the Russians and the Democrats. A lot of collusion…There was tremendous collusion on behalf of the Russians and the Democrats. There was no collusion with respect to my campaign…But there is tremendous collusion with the Russians and with the Democratic Party…I watched Alan Dershowitz the other day, he said, No. 1, there is no collusion, No. 2, collusion is not a crime, but even if it was a crime, there was no collusion. And he said that very strongly. He said there was no collusion…There is no collusion, and even if there was, it’s not a crime. But there’s no collusion…when you look at all of the tremendous, ah, real problems [Democrats] had, not made-up problems like Russian collusion.“
If you’re counting, that’s 23 mentions of collusion in thirty minutes. That number is almost as big as the total number of lies he told. Why did the president spend so much time trying to debunk the idea that there is evidence of collusion?
To me, there is abundant evidence already in the record that the Trump campaign sought to gain information from the Russians that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton. Trump actually asked the Russians to hack into Clinton’s private server, which would be a crime, and retrieve the 33,000 emails she failed to turn over because, she says, they were not work-related. Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner had a meeting with the Russians where they were promised dirt on Clinton. The head of Cambridge Analytica, a contractor for the Trump campaign, actually contacted WikiLeaks and requested access to Clinton’s deleted mails. Roger Stone and Randy Credico actually communicated with Guccifer 2.0 and Julian Assange to get advanced warning about what kinds of information would be forthcoming in each batch of leaks.
Let’s start with the essential point that hacking into the computer systems of the DNC and the DCCC are crimes. Using a phishing attack to steal John Podesta’s email password is a crime. Seeking to gain access stolen goods makes you an accessory to the crime and perhaps also a co-conspirator or conspirator after the fact. I’ll leave it to lawyers and prosecutors to define the exact statutes that might be implicated, but if what the Russians did was criminal, and it was, then what Trump’s team was doing was also criminal.
We don’t need to establish that any particular outcome was changed by this behavior. I’ve never met anyone who thinks that George McGovern would have won the 1972 presidential election, if only the Nixon administration hadn’t bugged a couple of phones in the DNC’s Watergate headquarters.
Now, it’s true that nation-states spy on each other and hack into each other’s computer networks. It’s still criminal behavior. And if you work with a foreign power that has hacked into your own nation’s government computers, that could violate additional statutes. If you offer things of value (like a relaxation in sanctions, for example) for stolen goods, that’s another crime.
It’s also wrong, by the way. The president has said that collusion isn’t a crime, and what he means is that it could be wrong and still not a prosecutable offense. But even he is conceding there that the behavior is wrong. It’s just that he’s incorrect in thinking that you can negotiate with a thief for access to their stolen goods and say that this is not a crime. If you know the goods are stolen, you’re breaking the law.
So, yes, there’s a big theory of the case that seeks to explain why Trump is so friendly with Vladimir Putin and eager to lift the sanctions on Russia. There’s also a big theory of Watergate that the break-in was done to protect against the revelation that Howard Hughes made a big pay-off to Richard Nixon’s best friend Bebe Rebozo. Neither of those theories needs or needed to be proven for dozens of people to go to jail for various crimes related to the underlying crimes and the cover-ups.
There’s a big collusion story and there’s a small one, too. The small one is already proven. Team Trump asked for stolen documents while knowing they were stolen. They made good faith offerings (a change in the Republican Party platform, for example) and dangled sanctions relief in order to entice the Russians to share illegally obtained dirt on Hillary Clinton. These are crimes. That’s collusion.
Trump knows that Michael Flynn is talking to the Feds. He knows that Sam Clovis is talking to the Feds. He knows George Papadapolous is talking to the Feds. But even without all that, he should know that he can’t beat a collusion case just by repeating his dishonest and misleading denials over and over again.