The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump has plenty of legal troubles. Collusion isn’t one of them.

President Trump on Nov. 9 in Washington. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
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To state the obvious, President Trump’s legal problems have worsened in the past week. But despite what many in the media would have you believe, a quick refresher of the facts shows that none of them come even close to confirming collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign in the 2016 presidential election.

On Sunday, Axios offered several bullet points worth of information gleaned from the Mueller probe and implied that all things look to be pointing in the direction of collusion. But collusion would have to demonstrate a clear back-and-forth between someone from the Trump camp and a Russian figure with the authority and intent to come to the campaign’s aid. The campaign official would then have to accept the Russian’s offer and perform some act in furtherance of the collaborative effort to in fact collude. Marginal players offering derogatory information, unreciprocated overtures from nameless Russians pursuing “synergy” and encounters such as a one-off handshake with the Russian ambassador hardly meet that threshold.

Every campaign is approached by various actors who claim to have something useful (but usually do not). There is nothing wrong with taking useful information if it comes along. Hillary Clinton’s campaign lawyer Marc Elias paid to use professional sleuths to gather derogatory information from Russians about then-candidate Trump. This is standard operating procedure. And as of today, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III still hasn’t confirmed the collusion that Trump critics have always assumed he would. These frustrated foes still are grasping for anything that they can say validates their commitment to Trump-Russia collusion. What they lack in clarity they try to make up for with volume. They suggest that that the sheer volume of stray contacts, handshakes or phone calls from Russians with Trump affiliates equals collusion. But it doesn’t. Most recently, some in the media are pointing to a vague reference to an unnamed Russian making an overture to Michael Cohen as evidence of collusion. But there is no suggestion that Cohen ever followed up to grant the meeting with Trump that the Russian sought. Remember, it takes two to collude.

In August, I wrote that collusion would fade but “the Cohen matter has put the president in the direct vicinity of a host of possible crimes.” And that is where we are. There is still nothing that confirms collusion with the Russians. But the Cohen matter puts the Trump presidency in peril.

The possible crimes that I suggested Trump was in the vicinity of in August have been revealed. Readers should not be distracted by the breathless reporting that Trump lied about how long he pursued a real estate venture in Russia in 2015 and 2016. Frankly, the fact that he couldn’t secure a real estate deal in Russia while many other hotel brands had done so suggests that the Russians were in no hurry to help or entrap Trump. No one in Russia appears to have taken a particular interest in accommodating Trump, much less facilitating his entry into that market with the hope of calling in favors later. Like almost everyone else, they thought he was going to lose.

And yet, Trump’s enemies refuse to yield in the quest for collusion. They are so heavily invested in seeing collusion and thereby declaring the Trump presidency illegitimate that they cannot make themselves admit collusion just isn’t there.

However, the campaign-finance accusations associated with hush money to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal are serious. Prosecutors’ filings suggest that “Individual-1” — presumably the president — directed Cohen to make the payments to Daniels and McDougal. This points a dagger right at the heart of the Trump presidency. Soon, the new Democrat leadership in the House will be confronted with what they are going to do with the weapon they have been handed. Even as collusion fades, the dangers to the Trump presidency are growing.

Read more by Ed Rogers:

George H.W. Bush, a graceful gentleman, disliked the dirty work of politics

2018 election results suggest trouble for Trump, Republicans in 2020

What does the left’s ascendancy say about the Democratic Party?

Mitt Romney could bring something important to Washington and to the GOP

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