Is The Criminal Collusion Theory Dead?

Below is my column in The Hill Newspaper exploring the current evidence supporting a criminal collusion case against President Donald Trump or his campaign. While clearly not popular to raise, the evidence released to date is rather underwhelming. Indeed, the basis for a criminal collusion prosecution is weaker today than it was a year ago. That does not mean that new evidence cannot be released but this is an attempt at an objective review of past filings and disclosures from the Special Counsel, Congress, and witnesses. That evidence strengthens the case against collusion and certainly supplies ample foundation for a defense against the charge of a criminal conspiracy with the Russians in hacking computer systems. Once again, the column only addresses the basis for a criminal charge based on collusion by Trump or his campaign. The prosecution of Russians for hacking is strong and the fact that Russians wanted to help Trump seems unassailable. The narrative supporting a criminal conspiracy however seems increasing incomplete and incoherent.

Here is the column:

“Whom did Donald Trump Jr. speak to on his phone in between calls setting up the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians?” That is the question the New York Times asked about “one of the more tantalizing mysteries of the whole Russia affair” in a glossy report on the campaign.

Hundreds of stories referenced the “blocked numbers” and speculated that those belonged to President Trump, who wanted an update on collusion efforts from his son. Last year, when asked by Wolf Blitzer of CNN if he was confirming that Trump Jr. phoned his father, House Intelligence Committee member Andre Carson simply said, “Stay tuned.” So we did, until this week, when it was revealed that Trump Jr. apparently phoned two business associates. The mystery over the blocked calls follows a series of overhyped collusion points that failed to pan out.

With the approaching final report from special counsel Robert Mueller, it may be useful to consider the current state of the collusion case. After dozens of indictments and filings, there is much that has been disclosed by the special counsel on Russian linkages and contacts. Congress and the media also have disclosed a fair degree of evidence from witnesses called before the federal grand jury and committees on Capitol Hill.

However, the publicly known case for collusion remains strikingly incomplete, if not incoherent. What is uniformly missing from the cottage industry of collusion theories is an acknowledgment of the threshold requirements of an actual crime. There is no crime in “colluding” with Russians without some cognizable criminal act or conspiracy to commit such an act. While some have dangerously stretched the criminal code to incriminate Trump, the most obvious and viable crime remains hacking into the email systems of the Democrats.

Mueller has thoroughly identified and detailed the Russian hacking and trolling operations to influence the 2016 election. Yet, these filings notably lack any link to the Trump campaign, let alone advance knowledge or support for the Russian operation. Indeed, key links have become even more implausible as part of a conspiracy with Russian intelligence.

First, there is the question of why Russian intelligence would tell the notoriously unpredictable and impulsive Donald Trump about one of its riskiest international operations in decades. Russian spymasters are not known for putting entire operations, or the future of Russian foreign relations for that matter, just one tweet away from utter destruction.

Second, there is the curious pattern of Trump officials trying to find contacts at WikiLeaks to obtain the Hillary Clinton emails. If there was such collusion, why were Trump associates like Roger Stone or Alexander Nix, who led consulting company Cambridge Analytica that worked for the Trump campaign, seeking contacts with access to the information?

Third, even Trump associates like Michael Cohen, who actively sought contacts with Russians about business in Moscow, also seemed to get nowhere. Indeed, Cohen had to try to contact aides to Vladimir Putin through public mailboxes on the internet. Like the Trump Tower meeting, the efforts made by Cohen during the campaign had failed miserably.

The public record reveals more confusion than collusion in the Trump campaign. If this was a grand conspiracy, there is a paucity of American conspirators and a plethora of clueless associates searching for access to WikiLeaks material. Indeed, in his indictments of various Russians, Mueller expressly said that any contact with them was unwitting, which happened also to be point emphasized by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

This all brings us to some type of “post hoc” conspiracy, or in this case, “post hack” conspiracy. The problem with this theory is that it is not a crime to seek access to material from organizations like WikiLeaks or other whistleblowers. If it were a crime, then journalists, campaigns, and public interest groups would be subject to regular criminal prosecution.

Indeed, the Clinton campaign spent massive amounts of money to fund the work of former British spy Christopher Steele and opposition research firm Fusion GPS to seek dirt on Trump from foreign sources, including Russian intelligence. The Clinton campaign then repeatedly denied its connection to that opposition research, until after the election when reporters found evidence that it hid its funding as legal expenses. Was that some crime of collusion or conspiracy before or after the fact? No. Likewise, it did not become a crime when Fusion GPS officials refused to testify before Congress, invoking the privilege against self incrimination.

The absence of a cognizable crime has not stopped conspiracy theories based on key alleged collusion points. There was the Steele dossier, which the Justice Department and FBI during the Obama administration used to secure secret surveillance against Trump aides like Carter Page, who has never been charged with a crime. Finally, there was the Trump Tower meeting. Nothing else fits a collusion theory better than some secret meeting with Russians in Trump Tower. The president reinforced that image by drafting a false account of the purpose of the meeting.

However, the meeting never seemed particularly secretive, let alone exclusive, for a conspiracy. It seems nonsensical for Russian intelligence to arrange a meeting of conspirators in the most iconic location of the campaign, with half the press corps camped downstairs. Yet, the Russians dispensed with the classic hollowed out pumpkins and sought to arrange the whole thing with an email from a music promoter filled with intrigue. Moreover, the meeting seems to refute any prior or existing arrangement.

Indeed, emails had to induce the meeting by falsely promising evidence of criminal conduct by Clinton. If this were a conspiracy, one would think the Russians would do the opposite of promising to talk about adoptions of Russian children but really come to hand over Clinton dirt. The Russians did not even know who would be in attendance. In the end, all witnesses confirmed that the meeting was short and ended when it became clear the Russians wanted to talk about adoptions rather than Clinton crimes.

Finally, there is the long discussed collusion point surrounding Stone and WikiLeaks. While Mueller certainly can add charges, his indictment of Stone was based on overlapping false statements from a transcript that he only recently obtained from Congress. It does not include any collusion crimes investigated over the last two years. Indeed, Mueller does not confirm a meeting, let alone collusion, between Stone and WikiLeaks.

The last two years often seem like a concerted effort to disprove “Occam’s Razor,” the theory that the simplest explanation is usually the right one. As long hoped for links fell through, more complex theories filled the void of collusion. Yet, the simplest explanation still remains most likely, that the Trump campaign, like virtually every reporter and political operative in Washington, wanted to see the WikiLeaks material and any dirt on the Clintons, just as the Clinton campaign paid for any dirt on Trump.

The Russian efforts to influence our elections also is neither novel nor new. Indeed, the United States has engaged in hacking not just our enemies but our allies, as well as intervening in the elections of other countries. There is nothing “tantalizing” or “mysterious” in such an explanation, because it is more factual than aspirational. The boring truth here is that criminal collusion theories are weaker today than they were a year ago. While Mueller has found ample basis to charge people with false statements, the record of these filings shows more confusion than collusion in the Trump campaign.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

215 thoughts on “Is The Criminal Collusion Theory Dead?”

  1. Sorry to inform you Mr. Turkey, there is no clear evidence in the public domain that either Russians or “The Russians”, as you put it, hacked the DNC server.

  2. Mueller is part of the political establishment, Donald Trump is not. He (Mueller) is also part of the deep state. A bureaucrat with a bureau.

    1. “If there is going to peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way!” Trump said

      Mr. “Art Of The Deal” proposing his “Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement” as a “State of the Union” to be resumed after February 15th of this year #Lockout 3.0.

      1. Apparently Diane you didn’t understand what the President said. He didn’t cause the shutdown. The Democrats did because they refuse to spend one dollar on a barrier but both Pelosi and Schumer agreed with a barrier before Trump, so it is they that have made the wall political. Trump has been willing to provide everything they asked for including not calling a barrier a wall to save them the embarrassment of not having to dispute what they had said in earlier times.

        He is asking for sanity from the Democratic leadership, not the Stalinists. Maybe the committee will right the wrongs of the first shutdown and agree to sensible policy on our southern border.

    2. “An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations,” Trump said.

      The POTUS, Annie Sullivan, proposes three flimsy excuses for whatever happens to the economy next.

      1. Unless the economy does well while the investigations continue apace. What then? Does The Miracle Worker change back into a pumpkin at midnight? On what date?

      2. So far Diane, you haven’t admitted that the President has done a fantastic job with the economy so your comment above is just more of the same and totally meaningless.

  3. If any Democrat runs for the White House Presidency next term and has ever spoken with a person of Russian, Chinese, N. Korean citizenship then I will ask for an investigation. To speak with any Russian is to collude with the government of Russia. Right? We need a Joe McCarthy era again.

  4. May I also state that all of Muller’s “convictions” drew out of actions that either happened to the named individuals in the years before they worked for Trump’s campaign (Manafort), or happened as the result of questioning after the campaign (Flynn, Stone, Papadopolous)?

    I would also suggest that much of the confusion about this is due to Muller being more interested in keeping witnesses silent, possible selective leaking from his office, and the public having their own opinions about what happened and seeing the investigation as a way of confirming their preconceived notions.

    1. Kevin, Robert Mueller was a registered Republican for years. Why would he conspire to destroy a Republican president? And why wouldn’t the Republican establishment come out strongly against Mueller? These inconsistencies don’t make a lot of sense.

      1. I’ve been listening to this bogus meme from people who cannot even name in which state Mueller was registered to vote. James Comey was another ‘Republican’. (He’s actually a registered blank in DC, having for years been registered in NoVa. NB Virginia has no party registration).

        The ‘Republican’ Mueller hired a crew of lawyers of which 30% were 4-digit contributors to Democratic campaigns. He hired Andrew Weissman. That was cute. The premise of a special prosecutor investigation is that the Department of Justice has a conflict of interest, and then he hires a Justice Department official up to his neck in controversy.

        If you weren’t a dullard, it would have occurred to you that Mueller, Rosenstein, and Comey are Justice Department lifers, and this whole fandango is an effort to shield the Justice Department and the FBI from being held accountable for abuse of power.

        1. Tabby, we know you’re suspicious of ‘any’ government official with real credentials. Somehow in your mind, ‘less’ is always ‘more’ in terms of qualifications. Never mind that no major corporation hires on that premise.

          1. Some people were even suspicious of J. Edgar Hoover, even long before the revelations in Congressional hearings in the 1970s.
            A “government official with real credentials” viewed with suspicion….imagine that.

            1. Tom, if you want to bring up Hoover he was pretty conservative. Hoover was obsessed with communists most of his career.

              Yet Hoover got along with Roosevelt because Hoover was professionalizing a federal force that hadn’t existed before. Hoover was still fairly young when Roosevelt took over. Hoover’s image was that of a boy genius in the early 1930’s.

              During World War II, Hoover was still in his 40’s. The FBI was vital for tracking Axis Spies.

              By the time Eisenhower takes office, the focus shifts to Communist Spies; Hoover’s favorite subject. So one presumes Ike had no reason to dismiss Hoover. Hoover aged from 55 to 65 in the 1950’s.

              Logically John Kennedy should have retired Hoover. Hoover turned 65 in 1960. But JFK was in no position to dismiss Hoover. Hoover had Kennedy over a barrel with regards to secrets.

              So I would say the real problem there was Kennedy’s corruption. Hoover would have been retired had Kennedy been clean.

              1. The “real problem” is that individuals in an extremely powerful agency like the FBI can misuse/ abuse that power.

              2. “Hoover was obsessed with communists most of his career.”

                Excluding the leftist Stalinists Democrats were concerned about communists and others that threatened America. Today the many Democrats think America is bad and horrid national actors good. We have to wait for sanity to return to the Democratic Party.

        2. Unfortunately for you, your ilk, the gullible rubes, dupes, klan wannabees, pocket-traitors and grifters on the make, federal grand juries don’t come in “Republican” or “Democrat” sizes. Rather, based on the law and the facts, federal grand juries hand down indictments where probable cause that a criminal offense was committed has been shown. Further, criminal defendants aren’t likely to plead “guilty” where they believe that they’re innocent, no matter what some google-eyed, slack-jawed buffoon screeches on Pravda Faux News. Finally, federal petit jurors don’t come in “Republican” or “Democrat” sizes either. Instead, federal petit jurors deliberate over the facts shown at trial as instructed by the judge in the jury charge; issuing “guilty” verdicts where every element of the offense has been shown beyond a reasonable doubt to have been committed by the defendant. In short, when a circus-clown administration surrounds itself with criminogenic grifters–much like the head bozo himself–no one is surprised at the good and necessary work performed admirably by federal law enforcement. So, thanks for checking in with today’s hannity talking points–although other’s affected by the same defects you carry have already beaten you to it; so sorry for your loss, and your condition.

          this is to “but that fast-talkin’ hannity feller shore makes it seem logical, though” absurd one

          1. More babble from the bogus lawyer.

            Peter Shill does a much better job of earning his per diem from Correct-the-Record.

      2. What an ignorant statement made only to convince those that are even more ignorant. The Shill doesn’t know Mueller present politics. He has a bad history that has been overlooked including the time he was at the FBI and the head of it. Weisman his lead man worked for him almost 2 decades creating a criminal law that didn’t exist causing over one to two dozen people to be incarcerated for not committing any type of crime. The Supreme Court overturned I think all but one conviction.

        Weisman also used powers that should never be granted to prosecuters. One of the persons convicted from the Merril Lynch case who I think was later found innocent admitted guilt and was willing to be put in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Instead of putting him in jail like any other person Weissman wanted testimony from the man that he couldn’t provide. Weisman didn’t care about the truth only a witness. He locked him up in solitary confinement and then put him among the worst types of criminals all in an attempt to break the man so the man would make up a story. That puts Weisman in the same category as the worst dictators that tortured their prisoners.

        Arthur Anderson was destroyed on purpose by these two, Mueller and Weissman ,even though Arthur Anderson did nothing wrong. It cost thousands of jobs and permitted fear to run rampant in the financial industry leading many in the financial industry to do things they should never have done and wouldn’t have ever done.

        Weisman was involved in the Steele Dossier, Hillary Clinton’s investigations and then was placed as head honcho below Mueller in the Special Prosecutors office. We should all be scared of our government’s actions for this is not the type of government we believe in.

      3. The Democrats are chasing Muller russia, Russia, RUSSIA in the hopes of avenging something, anything, some type of dissociative disorder ala Hillary and Bill and Pelosi and Kamala Harris and Booker and on and on….

        Live by the sword….fall on it baby.
        Justice Kavanaugh must be laughing his arse off. 😁

        ====

        https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/live-by-the-sword-die-by-the-sword/

        Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword
        by Charles C. W. Cooke
        February 4, 2019 9:52 AM

        If we limit ourselves exclusively to the original controversy — that is, if we ignore his alternating “I did it”/”I didn’t do it” responses, his embryonic moonwalking, and the possibility that he is now lying, and we look only at the now infamous yearbook photograph — there is a solid case to be made that Ralph Northam should not be forced to resign from his position as Governor of Virginia. The photograph in question is abhorrent. It’s not amusing, it’s not a childhood indiscretion, and it’s not a “distraction.” It’s abhorrent. But it’s also more than three decades old. Had Northam made such a mistake while he was governor, that would, naturally, be disqualifying. But he didn’t. And, let’s be honest, there is no indication whatsoever that he would have. As he exists now, the guy’s not a “racist.” He’s not a “white supremacist.” He’s not a “Klan member.” To force a resignation from a man on the grounds of a mistake he made 34 years ago — long before he entered public service, or even left college — strikes me as downright illiberal. It is said that Northam has “broken the bonds of trust.” But there’s some base-stealing in there, the assumption being that a critical mass of Virginians now believe that the head of their executive branch is an incorrigible racist. Perhaps they do. But if they do, they might ask themselves, “Why?” Are we to assume that our standard now is that if you did something horrible once you cannot be trusted ever again? If it is we will have to reconsider an awful lot more than who is to lead Virginia.

        The trouble for Northam, though, is that the above is my view, not the Democratic party’s view, and Northam is a Democrat, not a Charles Cooke. Or, put another way: The rules that would save Northam are those that are coveted by a conservative libertarian guy who loathes mobs, who believes broadly in redemption, and who resents the relentless flattening of categories that social media renders quotidian. They are not the rules by which the contemporary Democratic party lives. They are not the rules cherished by the progressive movement that is at present ascendant within that party. And, judging by his disgraceful behavior during the 2017 gubernatorial election, they are not the rules by which Ralph Northam plays, either. Surely, that has to matter? Again: I think that there is a creditable case against Northam’s resigning — or, at least, I think that there was before he muddied the waters. Whatever his past mistakes, he is quite obviously not a white supremacist, and, whatever the hell he was doing in college, he quite obviously is not that man today. But, again: I am not of his party. I haven’t taken its money, accepted its votes, or sought to inflict its Catechism. If our politics are to work, there have to be some consequences to signing on to an agenda, to a worldview, to an outlook, to a set of tactics, as Northam has — and those consequences can’t just be reserved for the other party.

        Oddly enough, this same problem is also going to haunt Lieutenant Governor Fairfax — Northam’s successor should he resign — who, astonishingly, has now been accused of sexual assault. By the Charles Cooke standard, Fairfax is innocent until proven guilty, both in court and otherwise, and should be steadfastly treated as such in the media and elsewere. By the standard that the Democratic party laid out during the Kavanaugh saga, however, Fairfax is finished. Sure, this approach holds, Fairfax says he didn’t do it, but that is exactly what he would say, isn’t it? As a matter of course, this approach holds, we must #BelieveAllWomen, who never invent accusations of sexual assault or mischaracterize what happened long ago. Again: Under the Charles Cooke standard, Fairfax may well be innocent, and that matters enormously because there is the potential here for his life and name to be ruined for posterity by a lie. But under the Democratic party’s standard, we should immediately move on. After all, it shouldn’t be “too much to ask” to find someone who has not been accused of sexual assault. Like Northam, Fairfax is a Democrat. Why, exactly, should he be immune from the rules laid out by the movement with which he has allied himself, and to which he owes his present position?

      4. Thank You Peter H., Mueller has been a Republican for a long time and a very conservative, straight laced guy. The vilification of him says much about those squawking about Trump being targetted for only political reasons. It’s probably more about not letting the power grab by corrupt influence on our political system. It’s a mess out there…..

        1. ” Mueller has been a Republican for a long time”

          We don’t really know what Mueller’s ideology is if any. It doesn’t matter his party affilliation if any. He has been working with government and with specific people satisfying his needs and his desires. Trump is disliked by Democrats and Republicans though more and more are getting on his train. Politicians are finicky bunch so don’t expect loyalty to Trump. Expect loyalty to people getting themselves reelected or looking good at home or to the people that will later hire them for immense sums of money.

          Mueller has a job. Get Trump at any cost even if it involves destroying innocent people in the process. Since Mueller and Weissman have done that before we shouldn’t expect anything different now.

          1. Mueller is a duplicitous RINO like McShame, Flake, Romney et al. Mueller is whatever the “deep state” orders him to be. Weissman is and has been Mueller’s protege for 30 years.

            Weissman destroyed Arthur Andersen, its partners and 83,000 employees through “creative” and “malicious” prosecution, all of which was struck down by the Supreme Court – Arthur Andersen and 83,000 capable and innocent citizens were illicitly, financially “murdered” by Weissman with no legal basis.

            In a perfect world, Weissman, Mueller and the rest of the Feminazi Gestapo Schutzstaffel would be serving life in prison.

            The “deep state” swamp must be drained for the benefit of America.

            1. “In a perfect world, Weissman, Mueller and the rest of the Feminazi Gestapo Schutzstaffel would be serving life in prison.”

              Let’s say in a good world neither of them would be permitted to do the damage they have done. Their powers to torture people would have been restricted and honest judges that weren’t afraid for themselves would have risen up against the abuses seen.

        2. Thank You Peter H., Mueller has been a Republican for a long time and a very conservative, straight laced guy.

          Again, this idiot meme is repeated ad nauseam by people who haven’t a clue in which state Mueller is registered to vote. You tell me sister: California, DC, or Maryland. James Comey, btw, is another one you people keep telling us is a ‘Republican’. He is, in fact, a registered blank in DC. He lived in NoVa prior to that. Virginia has no party registration.

          And again, the one glaring thing about Rosenstein, Mueller, and Comey is that each of them is a Justice Department lifer. They’re protecting their own, in the FBI and elsewhere. Why do you fancy Mueller hires a bunch of Democratic Party donors to assist him? And why do you fancy he hires the compromised Andrew Weissman?

  5. “IT APPEARS THAT ANONYMOUS INTELLIGENCE OFFICIALS ARE EXECUTING

    AN OPERATION AGAINST THE SITTING COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF.”

    “Intel operation against Trump still going strong”
    By Sharyl Attkisson,
    “There was a great deal of news this past week about President Trump’s audacious disregard for the advice and warnings from his own intelligence community experts.
    Perhaps there’s good reason for alarm.
    But I think there’s one shocking aspect — perhaps a larger story — that’s gone virtually unreported. It appears that anonymous intelligence officials are executing an operation against the sitting commander in chief. It might not qualify as all-out mutiny, but it’s also not all that far from one.
    Right under our noses, while still under investigation for allegedly orchestrating leaks and undermining candidate Trump in 2016, some in the intel community are orchestrating leaks and undermining President Trump in 2019.
    There’s evidence of the existence of such an operation from the inspector general, various congressional probes and investigative reporting. They’ve alleged, and in some cases concluded, that some top intel officials improperly leaked information to the news media and engaged in politically motivated surveillance practices involving multiple Trump associates.
    In the newest press salvo, unnamed intel officials fanned out to air anonymous grievances against their commander in chief. They provided details of classified briefings and made inflammatory charges, such as that Trump is “endangering American security” with his “stubborn disregard” and “willful ignorance.” Disseminating these details, if true, could be seen as assisting our enemies.”

    – The Hill

Leave a Reply to Tom Nash Cancel reply