President Donald Trump today weighed in, again, on the Russian investigation with a tweet declaring that “collusion is not a crime.” He is correct. Indeed, I was raising this objection before the appointment of the Special Counsel. For months, commentators treated collusion as if it were a per se crime. However, it is unwise for Trump to continue to weigh in on the investigation though he is clearly undeterred by complications created legally by his tweets in litigation (particularly in the immigration challenges).
Trump went to Twitter to declare “Collusion is not a crime, but that doesn’t matter because there was No Collusion (except by Crooked Hillary and the Democrats)!”
This followed attacks on the alleged conflicts by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. I have repeatedly raised my concerns about those conflicts and explained why I felt Mueller was a bad choice by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. However, I do believe that Mueller will be a professional and independent investigation. While Trump’s tweets play well with his base, many others see them as defensive and suspicious.
The point on collusion, moreover, will only take the President so far. While collusion is not a crime, the act of colluding can run afoul of other crimes. This is particularly the case if there is a quid pro quo arrangement. I have seen no evidence of such collateral crimes but they are clearly being investigated. Moreover, there are false statements in the investigation that have already ensnared former Trump officials like Michael Flynn. Finally, Mueller is expected to produce a report on Russian interference that will first go to Rosenstein and then presumably to Congress. That report could be the basis for renewed calls for impeachment if serious misconduct is revealed (particularly if the House of Representatives switches control to the Democrats in November).
What is interesting is that “collusion is no crime” is a good legal point but a dreadful political point. It is astonishing that Trump has been able to rally supporters around such a nuanced point of law as a political matter.