A. Collusion vs. Conspiracy – Setting a High and Unnecessary Threshold of Proof
The investigation focused on conspiracy law because “collusion” is not in a term used in the governing criminal law. That fact may explain why Trump constantly refers to collusion in defending his conduct. While it’s technically true that the Report did not find “collusion” between the Trump Campaign and the Russian Government, the Report did not make a lot of other findings because they were equally as irrelevant as “collusion.” For example, the Report did not find that Donald Trump is a generous person who readily contributes substantial amounts of his claimed fortune to charitable causes. Such a finding would have been (a) untrue and (b) utterly irrelevant to the matters under investigation.
On the relevant issue of conspiracy, the Report focused on “coordination” as a factual question — limited to whether an “agreement — tacit or express — between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government” existed during the Campaign or the transition. Why Mueller thought this limitation was essential to the investigation and to any charging decisions is never explained.
It was entirely possible for the Trump Campaign to “coordinate” without an “agreement” to do so. Given Mueller’s expressed conclusion that the Campaign expected to benefit from information stolen by the Russians and the clearly established fact that high-ranking members of the Trump Campaign and family actively sought “dirt” possessed by Russia on the Clinton candidacy, “coordination” within the meaning of the conspiracy laws should not turn on the existence of an “agreement,” tacit or otherwise.
Framing the problem as Mueller did sets a bar so high that a successful investigation was likely impossible. As bad as Russia’s demonstrated electoral interference was, it was entirely feasible that “coordination” by the Trump Campaign with the Russian activities could have been accomplished without anything resembling an “agreement” between the Campaign and the Russian government. Mueller owes an explanation of why the existence of an agreement was essential to a finding of conspiracy. Would mere knowledge of what the other side was doing suffice to establish such an “agreement?” Mueller apparently thought not, but the underlying reasoning for such a counter-intuitive judgment is missing. Conspiracies are typically very hard to prove, but there was no apparent or compelling reason to get the bar so high.
Although Russians masked their operation while conducting political rallies and in doing so “made contact with…Trump campaign officials,” Mueller says the investigation uncovered no evidence of “coordination.” I-MR 4 This cries out for elaboration. Which rallies and which campaign officials? When? Are we to believe that the Trump campaign worked with unknown parties to stage political rallies and never bothered to find out with whom they were working?
A related curiosity is the question of timing the decision to end the investigation. The Report notes (I-MR 14) that the Russians masked their identity in communications with the Trump Campaign but some of those contacts are still under investigation. Per Appendix D at I-MR D-1 thru D-6, there may be as many as 14 additional investigations pending but no details or clues are provided regarding their targets or subject matter. The massive redactions from I-MR 14 to I-MR 37 suggest that the primary subject matter may be Russian interference in the election unrelated specifically to possible coordination with the Trump Campaign, but, if so, this should be clarified.
The Report says Russians released hacked materials about Clinton through Wikileaks (I-MR 4), thus implicitly indicating that Julian Assange conspired with the Russians. Mueller concedes the SCO was unable to resolve the connection between the release of the Trump “grab ‘em” tape and the same-day release of WikiLeaks documents harmful to Clinton. I-MR 36. But what was Assange’s relationship to the Trump Campaign? This is not elaborated in the Report.
Trump personally welcomed help from WikiLeaks and the Russians. He later claimed he was speaking sarcastically, but when, in relation to investigation steps, did he make the sarcasm claim? This is a common Trump tactic – make a dog whistle statement followed by “I was just joking” when blowback ensues.
In June 2016 a Redacted Party predicted to the Trump Campaign that WikiLeaks would release info damaging to Clinton. I-MR 5. There is more here that needs explanation to sustain the conclusion that there was no evidence of coordination.
The Report portrays the involvement of Russia and Trump Campaign’s response as having same goals – each would benefit from the other’s success – but Mueller nonetheless concludes that throughout the entire campaign, the parties somehow operated independently, though in parallel, to each other’s activities without any coordination. I-MR 5. He also concluded that Trump Campaign people did not understand they were dealing with Russians, I-MR 35, an idea that conflicts directly with the documentary prelude to the infamous Trump Tower meeting at which high Campaign officials attended in explicit expectation of receiving stolen negative information about Hillary Clinton.
During 2016, George Papadopoulos, while working for the Campaign, tried to arrange meetings to follow up information from Joseph Mifsud (identified by Mueller as a Russian agent) that Russia had dirt on Clinton. While no meetings may have resulted, why weren’t Papadopoulos’s activities at a minimum “attempts to coordinate” Is it plausible that he acted entirely on his own without communicating with other Campaign officials? What specific efforts were made to track down this crucial information? Why isn’t this covered in detail in the Report?
Indeed, why was the Trump Tower meeting not, by itself, a clear attempt to coordinate with Russia? The information offering may have been a ruse but Campaign leaders didn’t know that and attended in expressed hopes of getting dirt on Clinton. They walked out only when the hoped-for dirt was not proffered. It’s pretty clear from the email history that if the dirt had been produced, it would have been accepted and not reported to the FBI.
Similarly, Carter Page was ousted from Campaign only after media attention drawn to his Russian connections. I-MR 6 If there had been no media attention, is there evidence the Campaign would have removed Page? Nothing in the Report suggests this would have occurred. Was there not more evidence of Page’s connections to Russia and, therefore, likely attempts to coordinate with it in support of Trump’s campaign?
Paul Manafort, then Trump Campaign Chairman, was also meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik, who had Russian intelligence contacts. They discussed campaign strategy, including swaying Democratic voters in Midwest. Manafort shared polling data. I-MR 7 WHY is this not coordination even by Mueller’s limited definition? At the time Manafort was the trusted head of the Campaign. Why would his conduct not have been attributed to the Campaign? Why was this not addressed in the Report?
Next: Involvement of WikiLeaks –Gaping Holes & Unresolved Issues