It sure looks like there was collusion between the Trump operation and Russia

Two things are true about the indictments unsealed by special counsel Bob Mueller Monday:

  • They don’t provide a “smoking gun” proving collusion between Donald Trump’s operation and Russia.
  • They make it almost impossible to believe that there wasn’t collusion between Trump’s operation and Russia.

Here is what we now know: The Trump campaign was filled with operatives connected in shady ways to the Russian government. It included individuals who knew that the Russians had obtained Clinton-related emails and who lied about that knowledge to federal investigators. Top campaign officials (and Trump family members) dropped everything to meet with Russian operatives when they believed there was useful opposition research on offer. Trump publicly asked Russia to hack into Clinton’s computers to find and release her missing emails.

We also know the Russians really did hack into John Podesta’s and the DNC’s email accounts and found and released emails that damaged Clinton. They really did conduct social media operations designed help Trump. Both their targets and their timing were extremely sophisticated for a foreign government that has traditionally shown itself to have a poor understanding of American politics. After winning the White House, Trump attacked the CIA and fired the director of the FBI in an effort to discredit or end their investigations into Russia’s role in the election.

At this point, it would be a truly remarkable coincidence if two entities that had so many ties to each other, that had so much information about what the other was doing, and that were working so hard toward the same goal never found a way to coordinate.

Trump, for his part, denies the allegations. On Monday morning, he tweeted:

But consider what we have learned, and how much disbelief we’re being asked to suspend in accepting that it’s all innocent:

1) Russia stole Democratic emails. US intelligence agencies have confirmed that emails from the Democratic National Committee and from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta were stolen by Russian hackers. The emails were ultimately released in a smartly sequenced way to maximize damage to Hillary Clinton.

2) At least one Trump adviser knew of the theft in advance, and lied about it. Shortly after the emails were hacked, George Papadopoulos, one of Trump’s five listed foreign policy advisers, was told of their existence by a Russian professor whom he knew to have deep contacts in the Russian government. Papadopoulos subsequently lied to investigators about the timing of the revelation. This is from the indictment (emphasis mine):

Papadopoulos acknowledged that the Professor had told him about the Russians possessing dirt on then-candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails but stated multiple times that he learned that information prior to joining the campaign. In truth and in fact, however, defendant Papadopoulos learned he would be an advisor to the campaign in early March and met the Professor on or about March 14, 2016; the professor only took interest in defendant Papadopoulos because of his status with the Campaign, and the Professor told defendant Papadopoulos about the thousands of emails on or about April 26, 2016.

We don’t know if Papadopoulos shared this knowledge with others in Trump’s orbit, or if others in Trump’s orbit were also approached by Russian intermediaries with this information. But it’s worth noting that Trump advisor Roger Stone sent a series of tweets suggesting he knew the stolen Podesta emails were coming weeks in advance.

3) Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, was a paid operative of a Russia-linked political party in Ukraine. According to Mueller’s indictment, Paul Manafort, who would go on to lead Trump’s campaign, was a longtime paid operative of a Ukrainian political party with deep ties to the Kremlin. Manafort hid both the extent of his payments and the extent of his work on behalf of this party; ultimately, more than $75 million flowed through offshore accounts related to the work, and at least $18 million was laundered by Manafort.

Among other things, this placed Manafort — and his deputy, Richard Gates — in a highly compromised position, as they had both taken huge amounts of illegal money from a foreign government and lied about it to the US government. Manafort would go on to run Trump’s campaign and bring Gates into the operation too.

The Trump administration has subsequently tried to distance itself from Manafort — in March, then-press secretary Sean Spicer said Manafort “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time” — but the reality is Manafort joined Trump’s campaign in March 2016 and ran it from June to August (he was ultimately fired when news of his Ukraine payments began leaking out) and was widely understood to be a linchpin of the operation. In August, Newt Gingrich, a close Trump adviser, told Fox News, “Nobody should underestimate how much Paul Manafort did to really help get this [Trump] campaign to where it is right now.”

4) In June 2016, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with a Russian operative who promised them dirt on Clinton.

 

 

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