Rudolph W. Giuliani went on TV and blurted out the Trump team's Russia investigation strategy this weekend.
“It is for public opinion,” Giuliani said on CNN, “because, eventually, the decision here is going to be impeach/not impeach. Members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, are going to be informed a lot by their constituents. So, our jury is the American — as it should be — is the American people.”
Everything the Trump team does should be viewed through this prism. And it's increasingly clear that the whole thing is aimed at casting doubt not just on any actual crimes that may have been committed but also on the validity of the investigation that uncovered them in the first place.
Case in point is the strategy to call into question the entire “collusion” premise.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Tuesday became the latest to argue that “collusion” isn't really, technically, a thing. “So much is happening that has nothing to do with this phony-baloney talking about the 2016 election,” Conway told Fox News. “Every time people talk about this phony Russia collusion — collusion doesn’t even have legal significance. ...”
She's merely the latest to go down this road. Giuliani has flirted with this angle in recent days. President Trump's personal attorney Jay Sekulow has said, “There is no crime of collusion.” And Trump himself told the New York Times in December, “There is no collusion, and even if there was, it’s not a crime.”
Plenty of people have chewed over just how misleading this claim is, so I won't dwell upon it here. Basically, the word “collusion” isn't in the applicable criminal code; that's technically true. But the Justice Department has used the term in its own filings in Robert S. Mueller III's probe, and it's something of a blanket term that encompasses several potential crimes such as conspiracy, public corruption and coercion. Assisting a foreign power in influencing a U.S. election may not typically be called “collusion,” but it's almost certainly illegal. The media have used a somewhat generic, umbrella term in the absence of a specific, known and provable offense, and Trump and Co. have (rather smartly, I would argue) seized upon its vagueness to set the goal posts at “collusion.”
But where does that leave us? It goes to Giuliani's point: convincing the jury of the American people that the investigation itself is bogus.
Just as the Trump team's PR effort is about arguing that Mueller's team is full of Democrats and that the investigation was predicated on faulty information and that the Trump campaign was “spied” upon, setting the finish line at “collusion” is pretty transparently about undermining Mueller's eventual findings. If Mueller does use the term “collusion” in his report, the argument will be: “But it's not even a crime!” Conversely, if he doesn't charge people with “collusion” but instead one of those other crimes, the argument will be: “They couldn't prove collusion, so they picked another crime!”
However it turns out, the defense will be built-in, and there will be plenty for GOP voters and lawmakers who use it to argue that the whole thing is a “witch hunt” — regardless of whether real crimes are involved.
By the way, GOP voters already overwhelmingly believe it is — despite there being several real guilty pleas. Trump voters are already shrugging off lies to investigators as, basically, nothingburgers. Now, they just need to scare their Republican members of Congress into voting like they want, and Trump will very probably be safe — which is what Giuliani is banking on.