December 17, 2018 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Collusion Doesn’t Matter

Conspiracy is accepting something you shouldn't. Trump accepted Russia's help.

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I had thought that Donald Trump’s most pressing problem was Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian entanglements. Depending on what the special counselor found, Trump could be impeached, removed or kneecapped politically.

But since his former attorney, Michael Cohen, last week implicated Trump in committing two felonies, it’s reasonable to anticipate more revelations coming and to conclude that Trump’s criminal liabilities have eclipsed his political liabilities.

In other words, I wouldn’t normally agree with a guy like Donny Deutsch, who appears to be something of a blowhard, but it’s hard to disagree, in light of Cohen’s sentencing, when Deutsch said Wednesday that Trump’s “30-year dishonest criminal enterprise” will his undoing. “What is going to put him in jail eventually … destroy anything he’s ever built, and his children, is a 30-year dishonest criminal enterprise,” he said. “One thing will take him out of the presidency. The other will ruin him forever.”

Bloomberg’s Tim O’Brien put it less bombastically this morning: “Trump may emerge as a brazen grifter who, by aspiring to the White House like a wizened, soiled version of Icarus, flew beyond the boundaries of his own luck and abilities and delivered his business, children and well-being into the hands of prosecutors.”

But maybe it’s a mistake to think of criminality and politics as separate.

After all, you don’t need to be an authoritarian to disrespect the rule of law, democratic norms, and republican values. You don’t need to possess a coherent set of principles, policies and and programs. You don’t need a platform from which to erode institutions and undermine the public’s trust. All you need, when you get right down to it, is to be someone living a life in which none of these things matters.

A life of crime, for instance.

If you’re criminally minded, you might be willing to accept things that would never be offered to someone with a conscience, a feeling for the common good and a sense of right and wrong. You might be willing, for instance, to take $95 million from a Russian oligarch for a mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, worth only $60 million, and not be concerned about why you’re getting that much or where the money came from.

This is what Donald Trump did in 2008, according to Jackie Speier. Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, the California Congresswoman alleged that the mansion, and other goodies dating to 1987, was part of an effort to enroll Trump “in the Russian system of kompromat, of which [Vladimir] Putin is a master. Grant a favor, ask for nothing. Both parties understand that someday something may be expected in return.”

Grant a favor, ask for nothing. Let’s focus on that.

Even if you’re asked for nothing, accepting something you should not have is possibly criminal. In accepting something you should not have, you are part of a conspiracy, even if that conspiracy amounts to nothing. That alone could be criminal, and that alone is something we should keep in mind as we get closer to understanding the lengths the Kremlin went to to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

The Post reported last night the findings of yet-to-be-released bipartisan Senate report that “provides the most sweeping analysis yet of Russia’s disinformation campaign.”

The report, a draft of which was obtained by The Washington Post, is the first to study the millions of posts provided by major technology firms to the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), its chairman, and Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), its ranking Democrat. The bipartisan panel hasn’t said whether it endorses the findings. It plans to release it publicly along with another study later this week.


“What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party — and specifically Donald Trump,” the report says. “Trump is mentioned most in campaigns targeting conservatives and right-wing voters, where the messaging encouraged these groups to support his campaign. The main groups that could challenge Trump were then provided messaging that sought to confuse, distract and ultimately discourage members from voting.”

The conventional argument among the president’s critics is that Trump worked alongside the Russians to win. The natural counterargument, therefore, has been that there’s no proof that the president worked alongside the Russians to win. No proof equals no quid pro quo equals no crime, according to the president’s defenders.

The other counterargument is that we can’t know if Russian propaganda affected voters. We can make a good guess. All they needed was to radicalize a few white people in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and dampen turnout among a few black voters in Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. We can’t know for sure, though.

But all of this may be missing something more elemental.

Donald Trump accepted the Kremlin’s help. He was granted a favor, asked for nothing. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said in July 2016 referring to Hillary Clinton’s private email server. That wasn’t the only time. Trump was vocal about loving Wikileaks and other things related to Russia. (He also minimized Russian interference even as he clearly reveled in it.) Most importantly, he could have stated unequivocally that he wanted no part of it.

He never did.

That’s the key, I think.

Trump could have rejected Russian help, but didn’t. He accepted something he should not have, in the way he accepted $95 million for a mansion worth much less than that, becoming involved in what appears to be a case of money laundering. Once he accepted the Kremlin’s help, even if tacitly, he made himself a part of a criminal conspiracy to violate the people’s sovereignty and defraud the United States.

In this way, collusion doesn’t matter.

—John Stoehr

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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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