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Opinion Even if the Steele dossier is discredited, there’s plenty of evidence of Trump’s collusion with Russia

Paul Manafort, center, arrives in court in New York in June 2019. (Seth Wenig/AP)
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In early November, John Durham, a special counsel appointed by the Trump administration, indicted a Russian American analyst who had been a contributor to the Steele dossier of lying to the FBI about where he got his information. The now-notorious dossier, produced by a former British intelligence officer, alleged links between Donald Trump and the Kremlin. The analyst, Igor Danchenko, is accused of concealing, among other things, that one of his informants was a Democratic Party operative with links to Russia.

Ever since then, Trump and his right-wing media chorus have been loudly proclaiming that the entire “Trump-Russia collusion narrative” was “phony” and that he was the victim of a “hoax” perpetrated by the Democrats, the media and the FBI.

Nice try — but it won’t fly. The Steele dossier is a sideshow. Like many raw intelligence reports, it was full of uncorroborated information — a lot of which doesn’t check out. But the Steele dossier did not launch the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, and discrediting it does not undermine the evidence that the Kremlin helped Trump win the election with his campaign’s eager encouragement and cooperation. You can debate whether this constituted “collusion,” a word with no legal definition. You can’t deny that there was extensive collaboration — at least not without resorting to bald-faced lies.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Or even the word of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, whose 2019 report documented copious links between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin while finding insufficient evidence to charge a criminal conspiracy.

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Simply read the bipartisan findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russia’s election interference. The committee, then led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), issued last year its fifth and final volume detailing even more extensive links between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign than had previously been known. (Lawfare has a helpful summary.)

The report notes that campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was working for Trump for free, was in debt to a previous employer, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, on whose behalf he had done “influence work for the Russian government.” While managing the campaign, Manafort remained in close touch with his business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, a “Russian intelligence officer” who may have been “connected to the GRU [Russian military intelligence] hack and leak operation targeting the 2016 U.S. election.” Manafort shared with Kilimnik internal campaign polling data that could have been useful to the Russians in their disinformation campaign.

The report also sheds further light on the connections between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, which was used by Russian intelligence to release stolen Democratic emails. The report concludes: “The Trump Campaign took actions to obtain advance notice about WikiLeaks releases of Clinton emails…; created messaging strategies to promote and share the materials in anticipation of and following their release; and encouraged further theft of information and continued leaks.”

The key campaign middleman was Roger Stone, who refused to cooperate with investigators and was later pardoned, along with Manafort, by Trump. The report cites extensive evidence that, despite Trump’s denials, Stone kept Trump informed of his contacts with WikiLeaks.

Trump and his crew cannot claim they did not know where this stolen information was coming from. The report notes that “Trump and the Campaign continued to promote and disseminate the hacked WikiLeaks documents” even after the intelligence community publicly attributed the documents to a Russian operation. Rather than working with the FBI to protect U.S. security, the committee writes, “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.”

The Senate report also provides further information about the infamous June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower between Russian emissaries and the campaign high command. A middleman set up the meeting by dangling “dirt” on Hillary Clinton — to which Donald Trump Jr. responded, “If it’s what you say I love it.”

The meeting was arranged by Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov and his son Emin Agalarov, Trump’s business partners in a lucrative 2013 beauty pageant in Moscow. (At least it was lucrative for Trump; the Agalarovs, according to the Senate report, apparently lost $10 million.) According to the report, the Agalarovs “have significant ties to Russian organized crime,” and the elder Agalarov has "significant ties to the Russian government, including to individuals involved in influence operations targeting the 2016 U.S. election.” The Agalarovs helped spark Trump’s interest in building a Trump Tower in Moscow — a project that the Trump Organization was actively pursuing during the campaign, even as Trump was claiming, “I have nothing to do with Russia.”

There is much, more in the lengthy Senate report about Trump’s ties to Russia. All of it makes a mockery of efforts to claim that there was no collusion between the campaign and the Kremlin. Sorry, Republicans: The Steele dossier might be tarnished, but the evidence of collusion — or, if you prefer, collaboration — remains as damning as ever. There is a very good reason that Mueller documented multiple instances of obstruction of justice by Trump — offenses for which he should still be prosecuted. The former president had plenty to cover up.

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