Over the past year there have been a number of articles, TV commentaries and threads on social media about the vexatious word “collusion”. What is the Trump Russia probe about? There is no specific crime of ‘collusion’. So what does that mean for the overall case?
Words do have power. It is why I dislike the media’s use of the term ‘meddling’, more appropriately used of a busybody grandmother bossing her daughter in law around over the Thanksgiving gravy than a nuclear power’s attack on the constitution of the United States. So a debate about ‘collusion’ is perfectly fair.
However, it has led to a number of commentators speculating that Mueller is here to play small ball; that he will not be looking at what ordinary people mean by the word “collusion”, an overall pattern of co-ordinating assistance in the election to Donald Trump from the Russian state and people acting on its behalf; and an equal pattern of Trump and his associates accepting Russia’s attacks on Hillary Clinton.
These commentators seek to downplay the extraordinary attack on America that this would represent, if Mueller can prove it. US elections are for the people of the United States. A candidate who was elected to the Presidency with the help of a foreign power, who knowingly accepted that help for himself and accepted attacks on his opponents, would be guilty of the highest crimes against the United States. He would have betrayed his country and his fellow Americans. He would have cheated his way into office, and stolen the voting rights of every American, both those that supported him and those that did not.
Those who say “collusion” is not a crime are dishonestly implying that the act of collusion does not encompass a vast range of crimes which carry the severest penalties. Espionage, for example, is a capital crime.
James Comey, in his testimony before Congress, made this clear when he said he had not used the word “collusion”- but was looking for specific examples of “coordination”.
As you know, our practice is not to confirm the existence of ongoing investigations, especially those investigations that involve classified matters, but in unusual circumstances where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so as Justice Department policies recognize. This is one of those circumstances.
I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.
This answer should settle much of the debate about the word “collusion” and whether Mueller is playing for some minor, unimportant charges on peripheral matters.
COMEY: Collusion is not a term, a legal term of art and it’s one I haven’t used here today, as we’re investigating to see whether there was any coordination between people associated with the campaign…
“Collusion” is not a crime, but neither is “coordination”. Yet Comey’s answer says, in bullet points:
- This investigation is an unusual circumstance in the public interest to disclose, so it is very important [not small ball]
- The investigation is both ongoing and counterintelligence
- The investigation is primarily on Russian attempts to interfere in the US election [it is thus bigger than Trump-Russia. I believe that Bernie Sanders, to give one non-Trump example, will be implicated in this probe]
- This includes links between people around Trump and the Russian government. Here Comey makes it clear that not only those holding official campaign positions are in his crosshairs
- And it includes looking for examples of coordination between the Trump campaign, and the Russian government
- Lastly, and in a rebuke to commentators such as MSNBC’s Naveed Jamali, who have repeatedly argued criminal acts relating to that coordination won’t be proven, Comey says that his counterintelligence probe will include an assessment of whether crimes were committed.
Joy Ann Reid, a morning anchor on MSNBC, posted a series of tweets that reflect this tendency to trivialize what Mueller is looking for. She said:
The potential criminal cases linked to what we call “Russiagate” will likely look more like Al Capone than Alger Hiss — things like money laundering, tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions, etc. Mueller is a prosecutor, not a member of a House committee considering impeachment, and yes, there is no crime called “collusion,” so we should be accurate in using terms. In other words, people may have committed crimes (including some potentially serious ones related to interference with U.S. foreign policy, national security etc and some that are mundane sounding/money related) on the road to doing something sinister but not in itself a crime (collusion).
Reid dismayed many of her naturally liberal followers with this assessment. She says people ‘may’ have committed crimes, when two of the four charged have already pled guilty; more importantly, though, Reid says that there might be “some potentially serious” crimes involved.
What? Huh? Potentially serious? We have been told in terms by the then Director of the FBI that a massive counterintelligence and criminal probe is going on examining Russian interference in a US election, and that the said probe is examining co-ordination between the victorious candidate’s campaign and associates and this foreign power. And yet Reid – like too many of her colleagues – is downplaying this into national commentary that there may be some potentially serious crimes involved.
Coordination with a foreign power to suborn a United States election is as serious as crime gets. There is nothing more serious.
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The above commentary by Reid was made as she praised a thread by another journalist, Ron Fein, of ‘Free Speech For People’, founded by an alt-left stalwart John Bonifaz.* Fein follows the same damaging path; he cites many reasons that “collusion” is not a crime, but his thread boils down to the offenses he argues Mueller is looking at prosecuting:
@AlanDersh asks “Where in the criminal code is collusion?,” the answers are: (1) conspiracy under 18 USC 371 to violate 52 USC 30121, and (2) coordination under 52 USC 30109, 52 USC 30121, and 11 CFR 109.21. /18
If you look these up, they are mickey mouse offenses of campaign contributions and illegal pac coordination with small penalties.
But this idea – that the FBI, whose formal investigation into the Trump campaign began in July after Carter Page returned from Russia, and who had, as part of a six-agency task force, been looking at money laundering into the campaign from Russia from April of 2016 – and its effective successor in the investigation, the Special Counsel’s Office – is looking at tiny, maybe, possibly, offenses of tax penalties and PAC coordinations, after spending seven to nine months on this matter, is ludicrous on its face.
The co-ordination that Comey and Mueller are examining is of a national security level with concomitant penalties. Will lesser offenses be prosecuted? Certainly. But is that what Mueller is looking to bring before the nation? It is not. He will either broadly clear Trump and his campaign or he will adduce serious crimes. Let us look at a section of the “Comey Day” testimony of June 8th, where Director Comey spoke of the investigation after he was fired by Trump:
BURR: Do you have any doubt that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016
BURR: Do you have any doubt that the Russian government was behind the intrusions in the DNC and the DCCC systems, and the subsequent leaks of that information?
COMEY: No, no doubt.
BURR: Do you have any doubt that the Russian government was behind the cyber intrusion in the state voter files? COMEY: No.
BURR: Do you have any doubt that officials of the Russian government were fully aware of these activities?
COMEY: No doubt.
Very serious indeed, then.
But what is this? If we examine the third transcript of Director Comey’s testimony, that of his answers to the Senate Judiciary committee in May, just before he was fired, he uses the word “collusion” and he uses it as a synonym for “coordination” in response to an astute question by Senator Al Franken:
FRANKEN: OK, well at the very least, Stone’s conversation with Guccifer demonstrated once again that the Trump campaign officials were communicating with Russian operatives. It was less clear, however, is whether the Trump campaign ever provided direction to Russian operatives or were aware that specific actions were being carried out to influence the election.
For example, it has been suggested that last year, the Russians use thousands of paid trolls, human trolls. We know this and botnets to flood the Internet, particularly social media and with fake news aimed at influencing the election and favoring President Trump. I’m curious whether such actions were part of a coordinated effort. Is there any evidence that the Trump campaign assisted or directed those efforts?
COMEY: That’s something that I can’t answer here, but I would refer you back to what I said, it was the purpose of the investigation to understand whether there were any coordination or collusion between elements of the campaign and the Russians.
Franken is asking a very pointed question – were the actions of Russian trolls and bots, both human and automated, on social media co-ordinated with the Trump campaign? And Comey basically says: it was the purpose of my investigation to determine this.
The May 3rd Q&A between Franken and Comey reinforces my own reporting of April 1st, when I broke the story that the Alfa and Spectrum Health servers were being used to co-ordinate social media bots and trolls against Hillary Clinton and for Donald Trump. I called that report “A Social Media Impeachment”. Much later, Michael Isikoff confirmed my report of April in his piece of December 27th:
In just the last few weeks, his prosecutors have begun questioning Republican National Committee staffers about the party digital operation that worked with the Trump campaign to target voters in key swing states. They are seeking to determine if the joint effort was related to the activities of Russian trolls and bots aimed at influencing the American electorate, according to two of the sources.
The story, which is oddly headlined “Mueller probe outgrows its ‘witch hunt’ phase” – it has never been a witch hunt, although I must make it clear that often journalists do not write the headlines that attach to their pieces – aligns with, even if it does not wholly confirm, several other of my reports from last spring – that the GOP itself is under a RICO investigation for accepting money from Russians at the Republican Convention, run by the Republican National Committee or RNC: that Reince Priebus, then chairman of the RNC, was taped, as was Speaker Paul Ryan, at this convention, accepting money from Sergei Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador.
Mueller is not playing small ball.