On Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee — which, we must stress, is controlled by Republicans — released its fifth and final report on Russian interference, which they describe as “the most comprehensive description to date of Russia’s activities and the threat they posed.” Combined with what we already knew, what the report describes is, indeed, collusion between Trump, his campaign and the Kremlin.
Let’s begin with what the committee found:
- Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was a primary point of contact between the campaign and Russia. During his time working for a pro-Russian politician in Ukraine, he “formed a close and lasting relationship that would endure to the 2016 U.S. elections and beyond” with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national who is usually described as someone with “connections to Russian intelligence.” But the committee’s report goes further: “Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence officer.”
- While in charge of the campaign, Manafort shared confidential polling and strategy information with Kilimnik. The committee found that Manafort’s “proximity to Trump created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump Campaign,” and that this helped contribute to “a grave counterintelligence threat.”
- The committee obtained “information suggesting Kilimnik may have been connected to the GRU’s hack and leak operation.” The GRU is Russian military intelligence; the “hack and leak operation” refers to the Russian hacking into Democratic systems and passing of documents to WikiLeaks so they could be released to damage Hillary Clinton.
- The committee found: “While the GRU and WikiLeaks were releasing hacked documents, the Trump Campaign sought to maximize the impact of those leaks to aid Trump’s electoral prospects.” This included seeking “advance notice about WikiLeaks releases,” building “messaging strategies” around them, promoting and sharing materials from them, and encouraging “further leaks.”
- Trump and senior campaign officials “sought to obtain advance information about WikiLeaks’s planned releases through Roger Stone. At their direction, Stone took action to gain inside knowledge for the Campaign and shared his purported knowledge directly with Trump and senior Campaign officials on multiple occasions.”
- The Trump campaign “publicly undermined the attribution of the hack-and-leak campaign to Russia and was indifferent to whether it and WikiLeaks were furthering a Russian election interference effort.”
- Trump has denied he ever spoke to Stone about WikiLeaks. But the committee — which, again, is controlled by Republicans — essentially calls Trump a liar: “Despite Trump’s recollection, the Committee assesses that Trump did, in fact, speak with Stone about WikiLeaks and with members of his Campaign about Stone’s access to WikiLeaks on multiple occasions.”
- The infamous Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner was “part of a broader influence operation targeting the United States that was coordinated, at least in part with elements of the Russian government.”
So here’s what we’re left with. The person running the Trump campaign had a close associate who is a Russian intelligence officer, with whom he was sharing confidential campaign information as Russia mounted its effort to help Trump get elected.
As part of that effort, Russia broke into Democratic systems, then passed damaging information to WikiLeaks for carefully timed release. The president’s longtime friend had a line into the “leak” part of Russia’s hack-and-leak, through which he learned the subject and timing of upcoming leaks and kept Trump personally informed.
If that’s not “collusion,” what is?
Republicans will reject this verdict. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the acting chair of the committee, insisted that “the Committee found absolutely no evidence” that Trump or his campaign “colluded with the Russian government.”
But he was using a torturously narrow definition of “collusion” to exonerate Trump.
That definition says that only a carefully planned, coordinated and executed criminal conspiracy counts as “collusion,” and anything short of that does not. But as we now know — through copious evidence collected by the special counsel’s team, the Senate Intelligence Committee, and journalists — the Trump campaign eagerly accepted the help provided by Moscow.
The campaign’s efforts were slapdash and chaotic. But to whatever degree this didn’t rise to an even more serious level, it doesn’t appear to have been for lack of trying.
Yet to this day, the position of Trump, his attorney general, the conservative media and most of the GOP is that the entire Russia investigation was a hoax, a scam, a ruse. When the FBI learned that the Kremlin was trying to sabotage our election, they want us to believe, the bureau should not have bothered to investigate.
And they continue to do everything they can to discredit that investigation, not just in its particulars — where there may have been corner-cutting or worse — but in its basic premise, that when a hostile foreign power tries to manipulate our election to help its favored candidate, that’s something we might want to look into.
This latest report proves something important about this president: The further you dig, the worse it gets. There’s a lot else going on right now, but this was one of the worst attacks on American democracy one could imagine, and the president appears to have helped it happen. We can’t ever forget it.