The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion As it turns out, there really was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort arrives at federal court in Washington in June 2018. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

The investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III ended anticlimactically. Although Mueller’s report detailed evidence of Russian interference and the Trump team’s welcome receipt of help from Moscow, there was insufficient evidence on the so-called “collusion” — that is conspiracy — to rise to the level of criminality. However, thanks to the misleading spin from Attorney General William P. Barr, the extent of the cooperation — collusion, in laymen’s terms — was obscured.

On Tuesday, the Republican-chaired Senate Intelligence Committee released a report with damning details of the extent of cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence operatives.

The Post reports: “The long-awaited report from the Senate Intelligence Committee contains dozens of new findings that appear to show more direct links between Trump associates and Russian intelligence, and pierces the president’s long-standing attempts to dismiss the Kremlin’s intervention on his behalf as a hoax.” These include a determination “that a longtime partner of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was, in fact, a Russian intelligence officer.”

Also according to The Post:

The report also for the first time cites evidence that that alleged operative, Konstantin Kilimnik, may have been directly involved in the Russian plot to break into a Democratic Party computer network and provide plundered files to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. . . .
It offers new proof that former national security adviser Michael Flynn lied about his conversations with the Russia’s ambassador to the United States, raises troubling questions about Manafort’s decision to squander a plea agreement with prosecutors by lying to Mueller’s team, and accuses Blackwater founder Erik Prince of ‘deceptive’ accounts of his meetings with a Russian oligarch in the Seychelles weeks before Trump was sworn into office.

Just as Norman Eisen, former counsel for the House impeachment managers, detailed in his book “A Case for the American People: The United States v. Donald J. Trump,” the intelligence committee report suggests, according to The Post, that there was evidence Trump had lied about discussions concerning Roger Stone and the WikiLeaks release of stolen Democratic emails. “Collusion simply means Trump and those around him wrongly working together with Russia and its satellites, and the fact of that has long been apparent," Eisen told me. “Indeed, it was clear to anyone with eyes from the moment Trump asked, ‘Russia, if you’re listening.’ ” Eisen added, “The Senate report is a valuable contribution advancing our understanding, including explaining former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort’s nexus to Russian intelligence. The report further elucidates our understanding of collusion via WikiLeaks, which acted as a Russian cut-out.”

In addition, the Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016, with Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. included Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian attorney and, according to the report “part of a broader influence operation targeting the United States that was coordinated, at least in part with elements of the Russian government.”

That Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the acting committee chairman, declared there was no evidence of collusion is belied by the mounds of evidence in the bombshell-filled report. Eisen tweeted, “I said it was collusion at the time and I have not wavered. Every additional piece of evidence that has come in has only proved it more.”

Max Bergmann, who runs the Center for American Progress’s Moscow Project told me, “He did it. He colluded with Russia during the 2016 election.” He added, “The bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee should erase any lingering doubt that Trump and his campaign deliberately sought out and coordinated with Russia and its influence operations during the election.” Moreover, “the report also demonstrates that the president of the United States is a clear counterintelligence threat to the country. He is not only compromised by his close contact with the Kremlin but he eagerly sought out covert Russian support in 2016.” Bergmann warns that “Trump is certainly willing to cheat again in 2020, and there is no doubt the Kremlin will do what it can to help him.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) acknowledged proof of the “alarming lengths to which Donald Trump and his campaign welcomed and relied on a hostile foreign power’s interference in the 2016 election.” However, Pelosi stressed Russia’s ongoing efforts to interfere with our election and Trump’s apparent unwillingness to defend our democracy. “America’s intelligence and law enforcement communities have made clear that the Russian Government is continuing to wage a massive intervention campaign to benefit the President, warning of a ‘365-days-a-year threat’ to compromise the 2020 elections and undermine our democracy.”

The bipartisan committee report should leave us with a number of troubling loose ends.

First, it is almost inconceivable that Mueller did not find the same factual tidbits that the Senate did. Whether the special counsel was unable to obtain cooperation of certain witnesses or felt constrained by Trump’s constant bullying is unknown. We come away with the conclusion that he did not find the facts that were there, and that he did not explain with enough clarity and urgency what significance they had.

Second, Rubio and every Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee had access to information pointing to a clear pattern of collusion. For them to continue to defend Trump, look the other way when more evidence of improper conduct with a foreign government (i.e., Ukraine) and impugn Democrats for following the facts is nothing short of reprehensible.

Finally, we are left with the question of why Trump behaved as he did. Was he trying to cement a business deal underway during the 2016 campaign, or was he simply disloyal to the United States, willing to use an enemy’s help and then lie to cover it up? Given the president’s current behavior and his willingness to wreak havoc on our elections to hold on to power, I suspect it is the latter. Whatever the reason, as Eisen put it: “With this latest and bipartisan exposure of the whole sordid tale, there can be no remaining doubt. Trump and his campaign colluded with Russia to help them win the 2016 election.”

In 2019, The Post's editorial board argued the president tried to manipulate the justice system, wrongdoing that Congress must not let go. (Video: The Washington Post)

Read more:

Ann Telnaes cartoon: Another Russian nothing burger

George T. Conway III and Lawrence S. Robbins: No serious lawyer would argue what Trump’s Justice Department is arguing

David Ignatius: Could Trump steal an election? It would be very hard to pull off.

The Post’s View: The Trump administration claims it’s tough on Russia. Here’s a chance to show it.

Miles Taylor: At Homeland Security, I saw firsthand how dangerous Trump is for America

Catherine Rampell: Forget the Trump tweets. This is the Trump action that might actually kill us.