Rudy Giuliani again argues “collusion is not a crime.”
The kernel of truth in the “collusion is not a crime” defense is this: If the Trump campaign avoided tripping over federal election law and computer fraud in the course of a hypothetical collaboration with the Russian GRU, then it is very possible it did not violate any criminal statutes. I wrote about such a possibility here last May. But the predicate for that possibility is that there be no direct contact between the Trump campaign and the Russian state, that any information sharing was channeled via WikiLeaks. Federal election law carves out exemptions for media organizations, and WikiLeaks has a colorable claim to be considered “media.”
But Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s second indictment of Russians claimed that voter analytic data was stolen by Russian hackers from Democratic servers. If those analytics were shared by the Russians with the Trump campaign, that would be a straightforward crime, just as much as the Watergate burglary of the Democratic National Committee in 1972.
The crucial context for assessing the claim that “collusion is not a crime” is the way the Trump-Russia story has emerged into the light, denial after denial collapsing into dust.
Trump, his campaign, and the White House have denied the campaign had Russia contacts. The campaign met with Russian agents.
They denied that the meeting discussed stolen email. The meeting discussed stolen email.
They denied Trump had knowledge of the meeting, either in advance or before it was exposed in the media. That denial is now disputed by Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen. Giuliani, Trump’s current personal attorney, gave a bewildering series of interviews this week in which he first referred to a planning meeting two days before the Russia meeting attended by Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort, and then insisted he had actually meant to deny that such a meeting had ever taken place.
They denied that the Russian intervention was intended to help elect Trump. At the Helsinki summit of the two leaders, Vladimir Putin said, plainly, that he had wished to see Trump elected.
Only this year, and only thanks to the Mueller investigation, have Americans begun to learn the full industrial scale of the Russian intrusion into the 2016 election. Only last month, and again only thanks to the Mueller investigation, was it confirmed that the hackers of the Democratic Party were indeed agents of the Russian state—a truth that Trump still will not unequivocally accept.
Some of the people Trump has blamed for Russia’s 2016 election hack
How much still remains to learn?
Yet there is one way in which the “collusion is not a crime” talking point actually directs attention in the right direction. The Trump presidency’s connections to Russia are a national-security issue first, a criminal-justice issue only second.