But as noted above, the Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.
In assessing potential conspiracy charges, the Special Counsel also considered whether members of the Trump campaign “coordinated” with Russian election interference activities. The Special Counsel defined “coordination” as an “agreement—tacit or express—between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.”
From A.G. Barr’s summary of the Mueller Report
O.K., I guess, but it all seems so very strange, doesn’t it? All those provable Russian contacts.
There was that whelp Papadopoulos, who made repeated attempts to meet with Russian officials, and then shot his drunken mouth off in a London bar, telling a senior Australian diplomat that he knew Russia had hacked Clinton emails – and who kept on with nebulous efforts to contact the Russian government directly, to the point that campaign chair Paul Manafort wrote to his deputy, Rick Gates, urging that “We need someone to communicate that [Trump] is not doing these trips. It should be someone low-level in the campaign so as not to send any signal”.
There was the infamous Trump Tower meeting, with Don Junior, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort all there, meeting with a Russian named Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer with connections back home. They were hoping to get dirt on Hillary, had indeed been led to expect the goods, but left disappointed. This is what counter-intelligence operatives would characterize as a Russian “dangle” – an initial probe exposing themselves to no risk, to see whether the targets were willing to be compromised, standard Russian operating procedure. Clearly, they were.
There was all that fishy, secret communication between Michael Flynn, soon to be National Security Advisor, and the Russian Ambassador.
There was Jared Kushner trying to set up a secure back-channel for communicating with the Russian government, via Russian Embassy officials.
There was that strange meeting in the Seychelle Islands between Erik Prince, the brother of eventual Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (he also ran the vile private force of mercenaries known as Blackwater), and Kirill Dmitriev, who runs a Kremlin-controlled wealth fund – a meeting of a cut-out with a cut-out, both with connections back home, but Prince not a formal member of the Trump campaign, and Dmitriev not an official of the Russian government.
There was Paul Manafort’s meeting in that New York cigar bar with a minion of Russian oligarch Konstantin Kilimnik, where he handed over reams of polling data – an official Trump campaign member on one side, but a cut-out across the table.
In fact, there was all sorts of this shit going on. Remember Carter Page going to Russia? Under every stone you find someone named Natasha, Boris, or Vladimir, lurking about and meeting with one or another Trump team member. All of the Trump people lied about it later to the FBI, which is what got them into hot water. What was going on?
Nothing that amounted to anything? It seems so, from the Attorney General’s submission to Congress, but as a lawyer, I look at Barr’s brief letter and see lots of lawyer weasel words that might provide wiggle room. For example, if “coordination” requires an agreement, “tacit or express”, with the Russian government, the next words we lawyers want to see is “reached directly or indirectly” – which aren’t there. Does this mean that meetings with and between cut-outs don’t in themselves count, since if that’s all there is, there’s never an actual agreement reached directly with the Russian government? Is that why Barr feels safe in saying that there was no such agreement, “despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign”, because he’s already defined “agreement” to exclude anything, no matter what was gained or obtained, if it never went beyond contacts between cut-outs? I don’t think so, but I see the legal sleight of hand that makes me raise the question.
At a minimum, when Barr cops to “multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign”, we have to conclude that those offers weren’t made to nobody in particular, but to people who actually were part of, or close to, that campaign. We know these overtures were not summarily rebuffed. People in Trump’s orbit took the meetings. Do we take Barr’s letter to mean that despite all those Russian “offers”, no final meeting of the minds was ever reached, so the threshold of “agreement” as defined was never crossed – but that yes, there sure were several flirtations with reaching an agreement?
That sort of thing. That’s what I feel the urge to keep gnawing upon.
A lawyer like me would also put it to you like this: Suppose Barr’s letter to Congress had been written by a Registered Trump Hater, First Class, like me, instead of Barr? The current A.G., after all, is a hand-picked friendly supporter. He already opined in his de facto job application for the A.G. post (perhaps betraying his ultimate sympathies?) that Mueller’s investigation was “fatally misconceived”, at least as far as obstruction of justice was concerned – articulating in his unsolicited 19 page submission to the Justice Department his absurd legal theory that obstruction by the President is logically impossible, because the President runs Justice. A fellow like that, with those inclinations, can spin the facts with lawyerly truths that make things sound a certain way. So can I. What if the summary to Congress went something more like:
Throughout the campaign, organs of the Russian government independently conducted a number of intense and widespread campaigns (mainly by way of social media, but also by illegal hacking and leaking of stolen emails) to undermine American democracy and promote a Trump victory. There were, in addition, numerous attempts by agents representing Putin’s government to coordinate further efforts with the Trump campaign. Persons either directly or indirectly affiliated with the Trump campaign had several meetings with these Russians, within America and abroad. We cannot demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that these meetings actually led to effective coordination – the meetings could be interpreted, on the available evidence, to have been tentative and failed efforts – and thus the legal requirements for a criminal conspiracy cannot be met.
However, there is no doubt that what might be called “attempted conspiracy” was a recurring feature of the Trump campaign, and that the members of that campaign, including, by the only reasonable logical inference, the Candidate himself, were open to, and desirous of, coordination that would lead to further Russian covert support. The tenor of the meetings that occurred, as well as the various dealings between the Trump campaign and Wikileaks, also indicate that members of the Trump campaign, including, by logical inference, the Candidate himself, fully understood that significant Russian covert support was being provided without the campaign’s involvement. All concerned were content to benefit from that support, and indeed engaged in their own independent efforts to abet it, particularly by way of the Candidate’s own public pronouncements, which expressly encouraged it, even as he denied it was happening. At no time did the Candidate or anyone within the Trump campaign raise the alarm with US counter-intelligence agencies.
Thus the legal conclusion must be that neither the Candidate nor members of the Trump campaign can be proved to have criminally conspired with the Russian government, within the strict requirements of the law. However, it can be demonstrated that many of them took preliminary steps to do so, and that many key campaign officials, as well as the Candidate himself, were meanwhile content to “go along for the ride”, as it were, and benefit from the independent Russian efforts, which they knew or ought to have known to be illegal.
The reality and scope of those independent Russian efforts is demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt, and it is impossible to know to a certainty what effect they had on the electoral outcome.
There – that’s all true, based on public information that we already know, combined with what Barr just wrote to Congress, but it doesn’t sound so great for Trump now, does it? It might even prompt one to ask questions like ”It’s not against any law to ‘merely’ attempt to conspire with the Russians?”, or “It’s legally OK to happily and knowingly benefit from illegal Russian support, without telling the FBI what you know?”
I know, I know. This is the sort of thing that whiny snowflake Trump-despising liberals want to argue in the wake of Mueller’s investigation, but politically, I think, we just have to let it go. We have to let it go even if we eventually see the Mueller Report itself, not just Barr’s summary, and things look even worse than the way I’ve spun them, above. With Barr’s memo now in hand, worded as it is, Trump and the rest of the GOP are now credibly hollering “no collusion, no collusion”, and any attempts to reply with “Yeah, technically, but…” will be ridiculed as bad faith sour grapes, and just the sort of mendacious partisanship that we always like to allege on the part of the GOP. There’s a real danger that they’ll mop the floor with the Dems on this front.
Similarly, I don’t know how Barr concludes there’s no legal case for obstruction, when by all the criteria it looks to me like they have him dead to rights (unless Barr took the view that the criteria of obstruction can’t exist because it’s logically impossible for the President to legally intend to obstruct). I also question the propriety of Barr making that call, if Mueller wouldn’t, and I’m astonished if that’s what Mueller intended, rather than preferring to bail the problem to Congress, just like Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski did, during the Watergate affair. Again, though, that’s a lost cause. The horse, however furiously whipped, is dead. Barr said “no obstruction”. We whiny Trump-loathing liberal snowflakes can’t start hollering “But hold up a minute!” without seeming just as bad as the folks at Fox News.
We just have to let it go.
The bulk of the anti-Trump screeds put forward on this blog, which is admittedly stuffed with them, haven’t been concerned with Russia. They’ve been about Trump’s insane policies: his hatred of NATO; his crazy Wall; his floundering on Syria; his love affair with not just Putin, but all foreign dictators; his being played for a chump by Kim Jong Un; the open racism; the horrid child separation policy; the pervasive corruption; the appalling behaviour of his Cabinet appointees; the regulatory cuts to measures meant to protect consumers, limit pollution, and combat climate change; the lies, lies and more lies; the obvious animus of the entire GOP towards women making their own reproductive decisions; and the general cruelty of GOP policies as supported all the way by Donald, such as the attacks on Obamacare, and the desire to gut social programs while citing a lack of public funds they themselves ensured with their obscene tax cuts for the rich. Plus, of course, that Trump is just too much of a moron to be President, without the kind of help he isn’t getting and would not, in any case, accept, stable genius that he sees himself to be.
That’s where the fight has to go, now. 2020 has to be about income inequality, health care, voter suppression, campaign finance reform, unfair taxation, education, the environment, female reproductive rights, gun control, and – amazingly – a whole freaking host of other issues not listed, with respect to which Trump’s policies and the efforts of the GOP Congress have been corrosive to the common good, and threatening to the whole planet. Maybe they can also throw in attacks on Trump’s disastrous foreign policy failings and the loss of American standing and credibility abroad – though I don’t know, regular Americans don’t seem to care about foreign policy, much less what foreigners think. It’s not clear that anyone who voted for Trump in 2016 cares about Russia, either, or would have been moved in the slightest even if Mueller had gone on 60 Minutes and said “Listen, before you hear the spin from Barr, Trump is a traitorous stooge, and the laws should be changed so we can lock him and his kind away for life within the darkest depths of some lightless Alabama supermax“. They don’t care.
They do care, however, if their health care is going to be taken away, and look at the ammunition the GOP just can’t stop providing on that score: just today, Trump’s Justice Department declared that it won’t defend Obamacare in court, not at all, just as a case out of Texas that declared all of the Affordable Care Act unlawful is wending its way through the system. In that case, Obamacare might finally be repealed, not through the legislative process but by Republican-appointed judges. That’s something to campaign on. That, and a lot of other things.
Angry as it makes us, we can’t make Russia the issue any longer. This rankles. I think that even if the Mueller Report actually says what Barr claims in his wee crafty letter, the whole thing smells rank enough, as we used to say, to knock a buzzard off a shit-wagon. Yes, and that’s just too bad for me. It’s over.
Fine. There are scads and tons and myriads of other issues that matter just as much, and to my mind cast Trump and his GOP pals in just as negative a light, albeit no longer as traitors to America in the traditional sense, but only in the way they betray the ordinary masses to the benefit of what has evolved into an uncaring oligarchy, determined to preserve its gains and its power at the expense of ordinary folk.
Oh, and geez, I almost forgot, let’s stipulate that Trump was lily-white here; we still know the Russians launched a massive covert attack on American democracy. Can we please do something to stop them doing it again in 2020?