What “Collusion” Means
Published August 7, 2018 / Updated August 7, 2020

What “Collusion” Means

And why, yes, it’s a crime

by Chris Thomas

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Image borrowed from a billboard in Grand Junction, Colorado.

There’s no entry in the U.S. code for “collusion,” a fact which Trump and his apologists have been quick to point out in the unfolding drama around the campaign’s unprecedented fraternization with the Russian government.

So when you read “collusion” it’s important that you understand that it’s a shorthand for several things that happened in the course of the 2016 campaign. Those things have serious political and, if the Congress and the Courts do their job, legal ramifications. It’s up to the American People to insist that those branches of government do their jobs.

Receiving Aid From a Foreign Government

The story of the Trump Russia collusion probably begins well before the now infamous Trump Tower meeting, but that’s where the public knowledge of the affair picks up. Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Rod Goldstone, Paul Manafort, and a bunch of Russians met at Trump Tower in July of 2016. Initially, Don Jr. and Kushner claimed the meeting was about “adoptions” (more on that later), but when it became clear that the New York Times had copies of the email chain, Don Jr. tweeted them out himself.

Of particular note is the following exchange:

Highlighting added by Resistbot. Source

Highlighting added by Resistbot. Source

Now that, in and of itself, is pretty damning but it’s not an open-and-shut case because it doesn’t prove what happened in the meeting. A tweet from the President makes denying that much harder, however:

Except it’s not “totally legal” or “done all the time in politics.” It’s against the law. Quoth the FEC:

“The [ Federal Election Campaign] Act and Commission regulations include a broad prohibition on foreign national activity in connection with elections in the United States…. In general, foreign nationals are prohibited from the following activities: Making any contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or making any expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement in connection with any federal, state or local election in the United States;”

The FEC goes on to explain exactly what a “foreign national” is, but key among them is “foreign governments.”

Now, re-read Goldstone’s email:

“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump”

That’s not just collusion. That’s a violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act. That’s a criminal offense. It’s what the Department of Justice back in 2014 called “Donation and Contribution by a Foreign National Aggregating $25,000 or more” and it carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Tack on the inevitable count of “Conspiracy to Commit Offenses Against the United States” and Trump Jr. and Kushner are looking at a decade of hard time each.

And if then-candidate or President Trump knew about it, he’s on the hook, too. (And he did know about it, because he dictated Trump Jr’s statement denying it.)

Tit For Tat

Really, the only way that Trump manages to keep his son, son-in-law, and possibly himself out of the DOJ’s crosshairs on this issue is if he can plausibly argue that the “documents and information that would incriminate Hillary” do not constitute a “thing of value” in the FEC’s sense of the term. On its face, this is absurd. An hour of Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner’s time, alone, suggests that this offer was valued at many tens of thousands of dollars by the campaign; otherwise individuals much more distant from Trump himself would have been entrusted with it.

But let us return, momentarily, to that “adoption” explanation.

Adoption here is a bit of a code word. Quoting, again, the New York Times, “the issues of adoptions and sanctions are so inextricably linked as to be practically synonymous.”

Russia closed the door on American adoption of Russian infants back in 2012 with the Dima Yakovlev Law, also known as the anti-Magnitsky Law. As the nickname implies, Dima Yakovlev was a Kremlin response to the American 2012 Magnitsky Law which placed tough sanctions on the Russian government and Putin’s close circle of oligarchs in particular.

Putin shutting down U.S. adoptions was retaliation for Magnitsky, an attempt to use adoptive parents in the U.S. to gain leverage over the American political system. Discussions of re-opening adoptions thus hinge, pretty clearly, on ending Magnitsky and weakening sanctions against Russia.

This is where the trap snaps shut. If the discussions at Trump Tower in July of 2016 were about adoptions as well as Clinton then they were almost certainly about rolling back the Magnitsky act and its sanctions in exchange for the Clinton information. Indeed, it is hard to imagine both subjects coming up in the same meeting without at least an implied connection between them. If the meeting was about ending sanctions then there’s a clear, financial value that the Russians put on the meeting. While the Trump Administration might wish to represent the information as worthless, to the Russians anyway, the meeting — and thus the dirt — was worth billions.

That makes the “dirt” a “thing of value” and that, as they say, is the ballgame.

Tell Congress What You Think

As much as we now know about the details of the Trump/Russia plot, the Muller investigation almost certainly knows more. That has to be making Trump and his enablers in Congress very, very nervous. Public pressure, especially on Congress, to protect the Muller investigation is therefore key to ensuring that it is able to reach and publish its conclusions. You can write to your Representatives and Senators by sending the word Resist to Resistbot on Facebook Messenger, Telegram, or as a Twitter direct message. If none of those work for you, Resistbot also supports old fashioned SMS: text RESIST to 50409 to get started. It takes 2 minutes to save the Republic.

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