The thing is that there aren’t going to be any documents captioned “Collusion Agreement.” There aren’t likely to be any secret recordings, not even of Russian prostitutes, where Donald Trump talks about colluding with Putin. Nor is there a crime called “collusion.”
If Mueller brings criminal charges against the Trump Administration and its political campaign involving collusion with Russia it will be based upon inferential evidence, on implications and inferences drawn from admissible evidence. The criminal charges will almost certainly involve the crime of conspiracy.
So let’s have a look at some of the inferential evidence that’s known and see what it is.
Strong Inferential Evidence of Collusion
Trump, in a campaign speech, asked the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.
We know Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chair, ran the campaign of a pro-Russian candidate on behalf of Russia previously; that he had taken on massive debt to a foreign patron, Oleg Deripaska; that Deripaska was working on behalf of the Russian government’s foreign policy; that Manafort accepted his position as Trump’s campaign manager for free; and that he hoped his work for Trump would help him “get whole” with Deripaska.
Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos met with a Russian agent who told him he had dirt on Hillary Clinton, later boasted that Russia had obtained damaging Clinton emails, and lied to the FBI about his contacts with Russia. That’s pretty good inferential evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Peter W. Smith, a veteran Republican political operative, attempted to obtain stolen Clinton emails and told the people he contacted in pursuit of that goal he was working on behalf of the Trump campaign. When one of the cybersecurity experts he contacted warned Smith that his work might involve collusion with Russia, it did not dissuade him at all. That also seems like pretty good inferential evidence.
Trump confidant and all around sleaze ball Roger Stone reportedly knew about stolen Clinton emails, emailed with the person who had the stolen material, publicly flaunted his advance knowledge of these emails, and also spoke regularly with Donald Trump during the period when he had this knowledge. It is a virtual certainty Stone colluded with Russia on the email hack; it would be surprising if Stone isn’t indicted.. And it’s probable he made Trump an accessory after the fact.
The infamous Trump Tower meeting was certainly an attempt to collude with the Russians. Donnie Jr., campaign chair Paul Manafort, and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner – himself in hack to Russians up to his eyeballs – were present. They were there to get dirt on the Clintons from the Russians. Q.E.D.
When Donnie Jr. was setting up the Trump Tower meeting, in between the time of two emails to Rob Goldstone, who helped set the meeting up, he made a telephone call to a blocked number. Candidate Trump’s phone number was blocked. A lot of others are, too, of course. If we looked at Trump’s phone records, we’d know if Donnie Jr.’s call was to his dad. But the Republican majority in the House and Senate committees charged with investigating this have so far blocked any effort to obtain Trump’s phone logs.
Weaker Inferential Evidence of Collusion
Trump, in an interview with CBS New in Helsinki, was asked if he would ask Putin to extradite the dozen Russians indicted July 13. “Well, I might,” Trump said in that interview with CBS News. “I hadn’t thought of that.” The only reason for not doing everything possible to extradite spies who hacked our election would be that you don’t want them to be tried. Which points, indirectly, to collusion.
Trump bragged to the Russian ambassador he had fired FBI Director James Comey. He told the ambassador of the country that had hacked email servers and hacked the presidential election, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Trump plans to meet with Putin alone.
That’s just the public stuff, and not even all the public stuff. In the blizzard of contradictory positions on NATO, Syria, Crimea, sanctions and other Russian interest areas, WC can see only chaos.
But the inferential evidence for collusion, for the crime of conspiracy to defraud the United States, is strong. Men have been indicted – men have been convicted and gone to prison – on much weaker evidence.
UPDATE: If you think WC is exaggerating in this blog post, read Chris Cillizza’s analysis of Trump’s morning tweet. “To call into question an attempt to ensure that future elections aren’t affected in any way by foreign interference is the opposite of patriotism.”