This post has been updated with new denials.
We don't know whether the Trump campaign colluded or conspired with the Russian government, legally speaking. But we do know that President Trump and those close to him seem to be quite concerned about making sure our definition of "collusion" is increasingly narrow.
Back before Trump was inaugurated, the Trump team assured us that it didn't have any contacts with Russians. Then it acknowledged contacts, but said they weren't about the campaign. Then it acknowledged the contacts were about the campaign, but said the information wasn't useful.
And now, Trump and his top lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, seem to be setting the bar for collusion at Trump personally working with Vladimir Putin or the Russians to influence the election. "There was no collusion," Trump said at his news conference with Putin in Helsinki. "I didn't know the president. There was nobody to collude with."
Giuliani, meanwhile, has now set about arguing that collusion isn't even a crime -- and suggesting Trump would have had to personally fund the Russians' hacking of the Democrats in 2016.
Here are the nine stages of collusion denial I've identified (thus far):
1. November 2016: No communications, period
Hope Hicks: “It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”
2. February 2017: There were no communications, “to the best of our knowledge”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “This is a non-story because, to the best of our knowledge, no contacts took place.”
3. March 2017: There were communications, but no planned meetings with Russians
Donald Trump Jr.: “Did I meet with people that were Russian? I'm sure, I'm sure I did. ... But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”
4. July 8, 2017: There was a planned meeting at Trump Tower, but it was “primarily” about adoption and not the campaign
Trump Jr.: “We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow-up.”
5. July 9, 2017: The meeting was planned to discuss the campaign, but the information exchanged wasn't “meaningful”
Trump Jr.: “No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”
6. December 2017: Collusion isn't even a crime
President Trump: “There is no collusion, and even if there was, it’s not a crime.”
Jay Sekulow: “For something to be a crime, there has to be a statute that you claim is being violated. There is not a statute that refers to criminal collusion. There is no crime of collusion.”
(Technically speaking, the criminal code doesn't use the word “collusion,” but it's generally understood as a broad term that could encompass more specific, codified crimes. And even special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's team has used it in court filings.)
7. May 16, 2018: Even if meaningful information were obtained, it wasn't used
Giuliani: “And even if it comes from a Russian, or a German, or an American, it doesn’t matter. And they never used it, is the main thing. They never used it. They rejected it. If there was collusion with the Russians, they would have used it.”
8. May 19, 2018: There was a *second* planned meeting about foreign help in the election, but nothing came of it either
The New York Times reported Sunday on yet another meeting about getting foreign help with the 2016 election. This one came three months before the election and featured Donald Trump Jr. and an emissary, George Nader, who said the princes who lead Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates wanted to assist Trump.
Alan Futerfas, Trump Jr.'s attorney: "They pitched Mr. Trump Jr. on a social media platform or marketing strategy. He was not interested, and that was the end of it.”
9. July 16, 2018: Trump couldn't collude, because Trump didn't even know Putin
Trump: "There was no collusion. I didn't know the president. There was nobody to collude with."
10. July 30, 2018: Collusion isn't a crime, and Trump wasn't physically at the Trump Tower meeting
With Michael Cohen alleging that Trump knew about the Trump Tower meeting in real time -- despite many previous denials -- Giuliani told both CNN and Fox News that Trump wasn't physically at the meeting.
"I'm happy to tell Mueller that Trump wasn't at the Trump Tower meeting," Giuliani told CNN, adding that "Don Jr. says he wasn't there.”
He added on Fox: “He did not participate in any meeting about the Russia transaction. ... And the other people at the meeting that he claims he had without the president about it say he was never there.”
Giuliani also argued that collusion isn't even a crime.
"I don't even know if that's a crime — colluding with Russians,” Giuliani said on CNN. “Hacking is the crime. The president didn't hack. He didn't pay for the hacking."
And on Fox: "I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime. Collusion is not a crime."