We know President Trump during the campaign publicly encouraged the Russians to hack and release Hillary Clinton’s emails. We know he referenced the WikiLeaks email dump 145 times in the closing days of the campaign. We also know that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort met with Russians in June 2016 with the promise of “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, and we have learned that campaign adviser George Papadopoulos had extensive contacts with Russian officials that included discussion of “dirt” on Clinton. To say that there is no evidence of collusion, then, would be one more big lie in a series of big lies the administration has deployed to defend itself in the Russia investigation that threatens to sink this presidency.
But in case all of that were not enough to constitute “collusion” (which is not a legal term), The Post reports:
Trump’s eldest son exchanged private messages with WikiLeaks during the presidential campaign at the same time the website was publishing hacked emails from Democratic officials, according to correspondence made public Monday. Donald Trump Jr. did not respond to many of the notes, which were sent using the direct message feature on Twitter. But he alerted senior advisers on his father’s campaign, including his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, according to two people familiar with the exchanges.
In the messages, WikiLeaks urged Trump Jr. to promote its trove of hacked Democratic emails and suggested that President Trump challenge the election results if he did not win, among other ideas. They were first reported by the Atlantic and later posted by Trump Jr. on Twitter.
Even more directly, Donald Trump Jr. was urged to have his father tweet a link to the leaked email:
“Hey Donald, great to see you and your dad talking about our publications,” WikiLeaks wrote. “Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us.” The message included a link to search documents that had been hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Trump Jr. did not answer. Fifteen minutes later, his father tweeted to his millions of followers: “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!” Two days later, Trump Jr. tweeted the link to his followers, writing, “For those who have the time to read about all the corruption and hypocrisy all the @wikileaks emails are right here: http://wlsearch.tk/.”
Trump may claim that his son was acting foolishly on his own and that he tweeted without knowledge of his son’s communication with WikiLeaks. Even if you believe that, it can no longer be said that there was no behind-the-scenes coordination (i.e. collusion) between the top level of the Trump campaign and the most prominent Russian “cut-out,” WikiLeaks.
So is this the proverbial smoking gun? “I wouldn’t say it’s the smoking gun on its own,” says Susan Hennessey of the Lawfare blog. However, she says that “in the broader context it’s yet another strand in [the] rope. Every single time these guys are offered dirty materials or illicit contacts their response is to say yes and push further.” She argues that it is “hard not to think that someone, somewhere crossed the line into criminality.”
Collusion, however, need not be illegal — and is not a legal concept at all. This began as a counterintelligence investigation into whether Russian operatives had help in their efforts to meddle with the election. The growing body of evidence suggests that there was. As for criminality, it is the effort to halt the investigation (e.g., lean on former FBI director James B. Comey not to investigate Michael Flynn, fire Comey, draft a fake explanation for the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting) that raises the potential for a charge of obstruction of justice.
However, at bottom this is also a political question, namely whether Trump’s conduct violated his oath of office and whether he abused the powers of the presidency to protect himself from embarrassment. Republican tribalists likely will never reach that conclusion, but a member of Congress viewing in good faith all this evidence in context (plus Trump’s attacks on the courts and press, his compulsive lying and his refusal to protect the country against further Russian interference) could — and I would suggest, should — reach a different result. Surely if Hillary Clinton were president the Republicans would have already commenced impeachment proceedings.