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Harry Reid’s incendiary claim about ‘coordination’ between Donald Trump and Russia

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). (The Washington Post)

In a letter to FBI Director James B. Comey on Sunday night, outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) says Comey may have broken the law.

And that's not even the most brazen claim in the letter — not by a long shot.

In the course of arguing that Comey's disclosure that the FBI is looking into new Hillary Clinton investigation emails may have violated the Hatch Act, Reid slips in an extremely bold claim about the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity. The public has a right to know this information. I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public. There is no danger to American interests from releasing it. And yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information.

Even for a man known for bare-knuckle politics, this is remarkable.

Reid is saying that he has been told the FBI has evidence of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. And he's not just saying this information came from mysterious and unnamed national security officials; he's saying Comey himself has left him with this impression.

The Post’s Matt Zapotosky breaks down the unknowns following the FBI’s announcement on Oct. 28 that it will renew its Hillary Clinton email probe. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post, Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

To be clear, Democrats including Reid have argued for months and months that the Russian government wants Trump elected president, citing hacks into Democrats that intelligence officials say probably originated in Russia. Trump himself has stoked the fire by saying nice things about Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his former campaign manager's ties to Russian interests are well chewed-over.

But there is no public evidence to support Reid's claim of actual "coordination" between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. And were that to be the case, it would be a scandal of epic proportions.

Asked what evidence exists of such a connection, Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson cited classified briefings.

"There have been classified briefings on this topic," Jentleson said. "That is all I can say."

Asked whether the letter means Comey has shared such information directly with Reid, Jentleson said, "Refer you to the language in the letter."

This is the political equivalent of Reid lighting a match, dropping it on a dry ground and walking away.

Anybody who has studied Reid's political career, of course, won't be terribly surprised. We don't have to look too far in the rear-view mirror to find another example of Reid offering an evidence-free claim about a Republican presidential candidate.

Back in 2012, Reid said he had been told that Mitt Romney hadn't paid any taxes over the preceding 10 years. Reid offered no proof, and his claim turned out to be wrong. But he injected the idea into the campaign and left it up to Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, to disprove it.

As recently as last month, Reid offered absolutely no apologies for his incorrect claim, suggesting that it had had the intended effect. He even called it "one of the best things I’ve ever done."

"Why? Because I knew what he had done was not being transparent and forthright about his taxes, and to this day he hasn’t released his tax returns," Reid said. "Did I want to do that? No. I had the information, I tried to get somebody else to do it.

"So I did it. And with that, like everything I think in life, here’s something I learned from my father: If you’re going to do something, don’t do it half-assed, don’t play around."

That Reid interview with The Post's Ben Terris also included this gem:

Is there a line he wouldn’t cross when it comes to political warfare?
“I don’t know what that line would be,” [Reid] said.

As with the Romney allegation, Reid's suggestion that Comey himself has told him about this alleged coordination between the Russian government in the Trump campaign is now sitting there for Comey to either respond to or not. He's daring Comey to disclose something, and if Comey doesn't (in keeping with protocol), Reid can argue that speaks for itself and there's a double standard.

Reid clearly has very few reservations about making these kinds of allegations, and now that he's retiring from the Senate, he's apparently even more liberated.

The career of James Comey as FBI director

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 15: FBI Director James Comey leaves a closed door meeting with Senators at the U.S. Capitol on March 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. Comey met with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in a closed door meeting about the alleged wiretapping of Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)