It has become a kind of mantra in the defense of Donald Trump on matters related to L’Affaire Russe that there’s no evidence, at least not yet, of “collusion” between the Trump campaign and the Russian active measures operation with respect to the 2016 election.
During the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s open hearing on Russian election interference on March 20th, for example, Representative Chris Stewart (R-UT) read out a statement by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that he was aware of no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. When asked by Stewart whether Clapper’s comments were accurate, FBI Director James Comey answered that Clapper had correctly characterized the contents of the intelligence community’s report on the subject. President Trump’s official Twitter feed, @POTUS, promptly tweeted out a clip of the exchange—implying that Comey’s statement was exonerating of any wrongdoing:
— President Trump (@POTUS) March 20, 2017
Similarly, on April 2, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Adam Schiff, “The big issue … is whether or not there was collusion among members of the Trump campaign or surrounding the Trump campaign. Can you say definitively that there was collusion?” Schiff responded, “I don’t think we can say anything definitively at this point.” The clip was picked up by the conservative website The Washington Free Beacon, which marshalled the exchange to Trump’s defense: “So far no one has been able to point to any solid evidence of collusion, despite investigations from the House Intelligence Committee, Senate Intelligence Committee and the FBI.” It was also trumpeted by Breitbart and other right-wing outlets that have lent their support to the President, which presented Schiff’s inability to “definitively” determine collusion as a conclusive defense of President Trump’s campaign.
The defense is erroneous. The reason? The premise, at least in a political sense, is actually false.
There is, in fact, copious evidence of at least tacit collaboration between the Russians and the Trump campaign, collaboration in which Trump personally participated on multiple occasions. But we have collectively discounted this cooperation for two related, and quite perverse, reasons: It was overt and public and it was legal. The consequence has been that we largely ignore it in discussing the matter.
Collusion, in this context anyway, is not a legal term. For legal purposes, it matters if Trump or his people conspired with Russian agents to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act or some other criminal law; it matters if they acted as agents of a foreign power within the meaning of FISA or as agents of a foreign principal within the meaning of FARA.
When people say there is no evidence of collusion, they mean, we suppose, that there is no evidence of covert or illegal collaboration with the criminal activity undertaken in the course of this foreign intelligence operation against the United States.
But that is rather a different matter than acquitting Trump and his campaign of collaborating with the Russians. It ignores, after all, the overt and perfectly legal collaboration they plainly engaged in with what they knew to be an ongoing foreign intelligence operation against their country. We don’t need an investigation to show that this overt activity took place, for the Trumpists were caught in flagrante delicto throughout the entire campaign; indeed, caught is even the wrong word here. The cooperation was an open and public feature of the campaign.
It included open encouragement of the Russians to hack Democratic targets; denial that they had done so; encouragement of Wikileaks, which was publicly known to be effectively a publishing arm of the Russian operation, in publishing the fruits of the hacks; and publicly trumpeting the contents of stolen emails.
Most notoriously, on July 27, Trump stated during a news conference: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” He later doubled down on the statement, tweeting:
If Russia or any other country or person has Hillary Clinton's 33,000 illegally deleted emails, perhaps they should share them with the FBI!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 27, 2016
In other words, after the Russian government had already been publicly associated with the hack, Trump urged it to conduct further hacking. One of the present authors wrote as much at the time, arguing that Trump had just “call[ed] on a foreign intelligence service to engage in operations against the United States.”
On at least one occasion, Trump also publicly celebrated a pending Wikileaks release of further hacked information, that is, the release of stolen material by an organization whose connections to Russian intelligence were hardly a secret. Giving a speech in Miami on November 2, he declared: “So today, I guess WikiLeaks, it sounds like, is going to be dropping some more, and if we met tomorrow, I'll tell you about it tomorrow, but one beauty that's been caught was, and this was just recently, newly released, where they say having a dump. We're having a dump of all of those e-mails. . . ."
He also declared multiple times that he “love[d] Wikileaks” or “love[d] reading those Wikileaks”—that is, knowing that a foreign intelligence operation had taken place against his opponent and the Wikileaks was publishing the fruits, he publicly celebrated the publisher. Three days before the election, he riffed at a campaign rally: “You know, as I was getting off the plane, they were just announcing new Wikileaks! And I wanted to stay there but I didn’t want to keep you waiting. I didn’t want to keep you waiting. Let me run back onto the plane and find out!”
Included below in the Appendix to this article is a rough and incomplete timeline of both Trump’s statements obscuring Russia’s intervention and his appeals to Wikileaks material—that is, material stolen by the Russians and published by an organization publicly identified as fronting for them—throughout the campaign.
All of which is what Clint Watts was talking about last week when he told the Senate Intelligence Committee that: “part of the reason active measures have worked in this U.S. election is because the commander-in-chief has used Russian active measures, at times, against his opponents.”
On 14 August, 2016, his campaign chairman [Paul Manafort] ... cited the fake Incirlik story as a terrorist attack on CNN, and he used it as a talking point. On 11 October, President Trump stood on a stage and cited what appears to be a fake news story from Sputnik News that disappeared from the Internet. He denies the intel from the United States about Russia. He claimed that the election could be rigged, that was the number one theme pushed by RT, Sputnik News, white outlets, all the way up until the election. He’s made claims of voter fraud, that President Obama’s not a citizen, that, you know, Congressman Cruz is not a citizen. So, part of the reason active measures works--and it does today in terms of Trump Tower being wiretapped--is because they parrot the same lines. So, Putin is correct, he can say that he’s not influencing anything because he’s just putting out his stance. But until we get a firm basis on fact and fiction in our own country, get some agreement about the facts, whether it be do I support the intelligence community or a story I read on my Twitter feed, we’re going to have a big problem. I can tell you right now today, grey outlets, that are Soviet pushing accounts, tweet at President Trump during high volumes when they know he’s online, and they push conspiracy theories. So if he is to click on one of those or cite one of those, it just proves Putin correct, that we can use this as a lever against the Americans.
Watts’s comments got a lot of attention from shocked commentators. But they are really an emperor-has-no-clothes statement of the obvious. They are another way of saying that the Russian active measures worked because Trump and his associates were collaborating with the operation. That they were doing so publicly and lawfully does not make their activity any less collaboration—just, perhaps, more honest and open. And it doesn't make it less bad.
It remains an important question whether anyone in the Trump camp colluded covertly or illegally or whether they coordinated with the Russian operation. These questions are important because they go to the question of whether any laws were violated and whether anyone in the Trump orbit may be compromised by Russian intelligence.
But there simply is no question that the Trump campaign collaborated knowingly with a foreign power during this operation, or that Trump himself was the colluder in chief.
If you don’t believe us, read the Appendix.
Denials of Russian involvement
7/27/16: At a campaign rally in Scranton, PA:
And then I see her campaign manager, and he’s on television. And he said that Russia hacked them. No, no, he said Russia hacked them … How does he know, he didn’t really know. And then he said, uh, uh, Trump, Trump. And I’m sitting there watching him saying, what did I do? Trump! I wish I had that power! Man, that would be power! … And he said Russia with e-mails -- probably was China or somebody else. Might be a 400-pound person sitting in bed. OK? Might be. Some of the greatest hackers of all time. [Laughter]
9/27/16: At the first presidential debate:
I don’t think anyone knows that it was Russia who broke into the DNC. She’s saying, Russia, Russia, Russia. Maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China, it could also be lots of other people, it could also be someone sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds. You don’t know who broke into the DNC.
10/26/16: At a rally in Kinston, NC:
First of all, I don't know Putin, have no business whatsoever with Russia, have nothing to do with Russia. And, you know, they like to say every time WikiLeaks comes out, they say this is a conspiracy between Donald Trump and Russia. Give me a break.
12/6/17: A month after the election, Trump tweets:
Unless you catch "hackers" in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking. Why wasn't this brought up before election?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2016
1/5/17: Trump tweets the following:
The dishonest media likes saying that I am in Agreement with Julian Assange - wrong. I simply state what he states, it is for the people....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2017
Discussion of hacked documents
7/23: Trump tweets:
The Wikileaks e-mail release today was so bad to Sanders that it will make it impossible for him to support her, unless he is a fraud!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 23, 2016
7/25: Speech in Roanoke, VA:
With Bernie, when you look at what happened, the thing that surprises me most is how he folded. He folded! I thought he was really hanging out, tough, tough, tough, tough, then they find these horrible emails talking about his religion, and is he Jewish, and is he an atheist, and what, that’s not going to play well…man, that’s rough. And that’s not as bad as some of the other ones…
10/9: Second presidential debate:
And all you have to do is take a look at WikiLeaks and just see what they say about Bernie Sanders and see what Deborah Wasserman Schultz had in mind, because Bernie Sanders, between super-delegates and Deborah Wasserman Schultz, he never had a chance.
10/10: Speech in Ambridge, PA:
Where is the media rushing to correct these false stories? Because in the Wikileaks, it was all about open borders, free trade for everybody.
Hillary had no defense for her secret speeches to Wall Street and international banks that she hid from the public and which were exposed by Wikileaks. And by the way, just as I'm walking on the stage, Mayor Giuliani said you're not going to believe this, look at this, we have all of these new charges. You see it just came down today. Wikileaks, some new stuff, some brutal stuff. I mean, I'd read it to you, but to hell with it, just trust me. It's real bad stuff.
In the secret speeches released by WikiLeaks, this is yesterday and the day before, Hillary -- not as good as today, buy the way -- Hillary Clinton -- but I say that because the press will try not to pick them up because they try and protect her....
10/11: Speech in Panama City, FL:
WikiLeaks also shows something I've been warning everybody -- everybody -- about for a long time. The media is simply an extension of Hillary Clinton's campaign.
The WikiLeaks e-mails show that Hillary's staff even has given up secret notes on when she needs to smile. It's all a phony deal with her...."
WikiLeaks has given us a window into the secret corridors of government power where we see a former secretary of state announcing her desire to end forever the American independence that our Founders gave to us and wanted us to have.
These WikiLeaks e-mails confirm what those of us here today have known all along. Hillary Clinton is the vessel, a corrupt global establishment that's raiding our country and surrendering the sovereignty of our nation....
The WikiLeaks speeches even showed Clinton praising the president of China for promising to assert his authority.
10/13: Speech in Columbus, OH:
The Wikileaks came out today, they show she’s got no core.
It just came out - the sad part is we don’t talk about Wikileaks, because it’s incredible, but Wikileaks just with a lot of new ones, and it would be wonderful if these very dishonest people back there would talk about it, it would be wonderful. It would be wonderful.
The Wikileaks emails show that the Clintons and the corporate media are one and the same, they collaborate and they conspire together.
10/13: Speech in Cincinnati, OH:
The Hillary Clinton documents released by WikiLeaks just a little while ago. Make it more clear than ever just how much is at stake on November 8th. The corruption of the Clintons knows no limits and we've known that for a long time. Today WikiLeaks released new e- mails from early 2015 from Clinton campaign staffers discussing how friendly Hillary was with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, I'm shocked to hear that. [Booing]
And the main stream media, which they control and use quite viciously. They want to distract us from WikiLeaks -- it's been amazing what's coming out on WikiLeaks. [Applause]
This -- even though, she admitted in private according to WikiLeaks, just the other day. That she knows terrorists are trying to infiltrate the refugee program which they absolutely are. [Booing]
The WikiLeaks documents show how the media conspires and collaborates with Clinton campaign, including giving the questions and answers to Hillary Clinton before a debate. [Applause]
10/13: Speech in West Palm Beach, FL:
It's not coincidence that these attacks come at the exact same moment, and all together at the same time as WikiLeaks releases documents exposing the massive international corruption of the Clinton machine, including 2,000 more e-mails just this morning.
10/14: Speech in Greensboro, NC:
WikiLeaks showed the Clintons ripped off the people of Haiti as they were suffering and dying after the earthquake.
It also comes at a time as WikiLeaks unveils horrible, horrible things about Hillary Clinton. [Applause]
WikiLeaks documents, Hillary Clinton speaking in secret - oh man, you saw those too, a secret Brazilian bank. Hillary Clinton said my dream is a hemisphere common market with open trade and open borders. There go the rest of your jobs.
The Hillary Clinton documents released by WikiLeaks make more clear than ever just how much is at stake on November the 8th. WikiLeaks released new Clinton campaign e-mails revealing how friendly Hillary was with the attorney general, Loretta Lynch.
10/16: Trump tweets:
We've all wondered how Hillary avoided prosecution for her email scheme. Wikileaks may have found the answer. Obama! https://t.co/xF0wv8Oa8q— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 16, 2016
10/17: Trump tweets:
WikiLeaks proves even the Clinton campaign knew Crooked mishandled classified info, but no one gets charged? RIGGED! https://t.co/FgGxDsS0a1— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2016
10/18: Speech in Colorado Springs, CO:
Another series of leaked e-mails show top officials in the Clinton campaign scheming to take massive sums of money from registered foreign lobbyists. And then you wonder why we do so badly. But you don't hear the media talking about that at all, do you? You don't see it at all. As WikiLeaks proved, the media, is merely, and it truly is, it's just an extension of the Clinton campaign. [Applause]...
10/18: Trump tweets:
Hillary’s Aides Urged Her to Take Foreign Lobbyist Donation And Deal With Attacks: https://t.co/o2qvr1myIZ— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2016
10/18: Trump tweets
‘Food Groups’ – Emails Show Clinton Campaign Organized Potential VPs By Race And Gender: https://t.co/Qk1fOm1t8L— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 19, 2016
10/19: Third presidential debate:
No, you are the one that's unfit. You know, WikiLeaks just actually came out -- John Podesta said some horrible things about you, and, boy, was he right. He said some beauties.
10/19: Trump tweets:
10/20: Speech in Delaware, OH:
Boy, that WikiLeaks has done a job on her, hasn't it? [Applause]
The question of voter fraud came up during the debate. We want fairness in the election. This is having nothing to do with me. But having to do with the future of our country. We have to have fairness. John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, was quoted in WikiLeaks as saying, illegal immigrants could vote as long as they have their drivers license. [Applause]
10/21: Speech in Newtown, PA:
Now from Wikileaks, we just learned that she tried to get $12 million from the King of Morocco.
10/21: Trump tweets:
10/21: Trump tweets:
Donna Brazile Shreds Obama Economy - Acting DNC chair says 'people are more in despair about how things are' https://t.co/LQNbISSoX0— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 21, 2016
10/21: Trump tweets:
10/21: Trump tweets:
10/24: Speech in St. Augustine, FL:
The system is rigged. Wikileaks also shows how John Podesta rigged the polls by oversampling Democrats, a voter-suppression technique.
10/26: Speech in Kinston, NC:
What about the Hillary Clinton fiasco? Did you ever see anything -- what about all the WikiLeaks?”
Folks, did you see where, through WikiLeaks, we found out that Clinton was paying people $1,500 plus an iPhone to go out and be violent at our rallies? OK?
10/27: Trump tweets:
'WikiLeaks Drip-Drop Releases Prove One Thing: There's No Nov. 8 Deadline on Clinton's Dishonesty and Scandals'https://t.co/MfRy3Nvd4F— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 27, 2016
10/27: Speech in Springfield, OH:
The more e-mails WikiLeaks releases, the more lies between the Clinton Foundation, the Secretary of State's office, and the Clintons' personal finances, they all get blurred.
10/27: Speech in Toledo, OH:
Information came out today just a little while ago that's more devastating than anything you've seen so far. WikiLeaks, more information, but it pertains to what they knew and it makes all of them -- they're already liars, but it confirms it for the 75th time.
10/29: Speech in Phoenix, AZ:
I mean, this WikiLeaks is fascinating.
10/29: Speech in Golden, CO:
The WikiLeaks revelations have exposed criminal corruption at the highest levels of our government.
10/31: Speech in Grand Rapids, MI:
And speaking of draining the swamp, Donna Brazile did it again, WikiLeaks today. She gave the questions to a debate to Hillary Clinton and that was from a couple of weeks ago.
11/1: Trump tweets:
11/1: Speech in Eu Claire, WI:
In a newly released email, John Podesta has been caught saying that we have to dump all those emails. Can you believe that? That’s Wikileaks.
11/1: Trump tweets:
'Podesta urged Clinton team to hand over emails after use of private server emerged' https://t.co/NYvVmoA8wl— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 1, 2016
11/2: Speech in Pensacola, FL:
And through WikiLeaks today, it's just been shown that this is, as I've been saying, a rigged system with more collusion, possibly illegal, between the Justice Department, the Clinton campaign and the State Department. Right? You saw that, just came out....
11/2: Speech in Miami, FL:
Kadzik is also the one who helped lead the effort to confirm Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Now, today, in a newly released e- mail -- through WikiLeaks again -- we learned that Kadzik was feeding information about the investigation into the Clinton campaign and that... [Booing]
11/3: Speech in Jacksonville, FL:
And one of the things it taught us, Wikileaks, he knew she had a lot of wrong things going on, you know that.”
11/5: Trump tweets:
Top Clinton Aides Bemoan Campaign ‘All Tactics,’ No Vision: https://t.co/mHYvQtIq78— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 5, 2016
How about the Wikileaks?
11/7: Speech in Manchester, NH:
Her campaign in Wikileaks has spoken horribly about Catholics and Evangelicals. They got it all down, folks. Wikileaks. Wikileaks.
Wikileaks just released another debate question, Hillary got it just one hour ago. I said, I have to mention it.