The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The evidence doesn’t prove collusion. But it sure suggests it.

Just because President Trump insists there's "no collusion" all the time doesn't mean it's true, columnist Max Boot says. (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

President Trump’s mantra is “no collusion,” something he says as if sheer, mind-numbing repetition can make it true. The president is faithfully echoed by the likes of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who insists “there’s no evidence of collusion.” In reality, while there is not yet proof of collusion (that’s special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s job), there is copious evidence of it — and that evidence grows more damning by the day.

In Helsinki, Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted he wanted Trump to win — something Trump continues to deny to this day. Putin was more than a well-wisher from afar: His intelligence services ran an extensive operation designed to help Trump, including social media propaganda and hacks of Democratic emails. As I argued earlier, there is strong reason to believe that Trump wouldn’t be president without Russian help.

While this was going on, the Moscow Project of the Center for American Progress reports, there were 82 known “contacts between the Trump team and Russia-linked operatives.” “None of these contacts were ever reported to the proper authorities,” according to the project. Team Trump tried to conceal all of them. 

The most infamous of these discussions was the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower between the Trump campaign high command and Kremlin emissaries promising dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of the Kremlin’s “support for Mr. Trump.” “If it’s what you say, I love it,” Donald Trump Jr. gushed. When this was revealed last summer, President Trump personally orchestrated an attempted coverup by claiming the meeting was about adoptions. This was shortly after Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey to stop the investigation of “this Russia thing,” as he put it in an interview with “NBC Nightly News” — showing just how much he fears this inquiry. 

Trump has good cause to be afraid. On March 28, Mueller revealed in a court filing that Trump’s deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, was in touch in 2016 with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate with “ties to Russian intelligence.” Campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has a long history of representing Russian interests and was running the campaign for no pay, also reportedly met with Kilimnik in 2016. Manafort was also in contact with the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska (whom he owed at least $10 million) , offering him “private briefings” that would no doubt have been instantly conveyed to Putin.

Mueller’s recent indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers who ransacked Democratic Party servers notes that the Russians first tried to hack into Clinton’s email on July 27, 2016, hours after Trump asked them to do just that (“Russia, if you’re listening”). The indictment also notes that a “person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign” — widely identified as Trump confidant Roger J. Stone Jr. — was in communication with the Russian military hackers who used the online pseudonym Guccifer 2.0. (Stone denies any knowledge that Guccifer 2.0 was a front for Russian intelligence.) Both Stone and Donald Trump Jr. were also in contact with WikiLeaks, the Russians’ conduit for releasing stolen emails. Surely it is no mere coincidence that Stone predicted on Aug. 21, 2016 — nearly seven weeks before Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s stolen emails were released — that “it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel.”

Finally, as Anne Applebaum noted , the indictment also reveals that the Russians stole not just emails but also the data analytics Democrats used to run their campaign. This happened in September 2016. A few weeks later, the Trump campaign shifted its “datadriven” strategy to focus on the states that would provide the margin of victory, raising the question of whether it benefited from stolen Democratic data.

Yet more indications of possible collusion emerged from this weekend’s release of the FBI’s 412-page application to wiretap former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page as a suspected Russian agent. The application, approved by four Republican judges, notes that “the FBI believes that the Russian Government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with Candidate #1’s [Trump’s] campaign.” It also says that Putin aide Igor Diveykin “had met secretly with Page and that their agenda for the meeting included Diveykin raising a dossier or ‘kompromat’ that the Kremlin possessed on Candidate #2 [Clinton] and the possibility of it being released to Candidate #1’s campaign.” (Page admits to being an “informal adviser” to the Kremlin but denies serving as a Russian agent. He also denies meeting Diveykin but admits to meeting deputy prime minister Arkady Dvorkovich.) 

And if all this evidence weren’t enough, there is the collusion hiding in plain sight — most recently in Helsinki, where Trump refused to criticize Putin and insisted on meeting with him alone for two hours. Why doesn’t Trump want his own aides in the room when he talks with Putin? What does he have to hide?

Former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. , among others, suspects that Putin has “something” on Trump — perhaps evidence of financial wrongdoing. But, by now, any such “kompromat” could well include the help that Russia provided in 2016. Trump certainly gives the impression that he knows how much he owes Russia and how important it is to repay that debt lest Putin release the evidence that might bring him down. And the Putin Republicans give the impression that they couldn’t care less if the president plotted to win power with help from a hostile foreign state.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Why have Trump and his associates lied so often about Russian contacts?

Anne Applebaum: Did Putin share stolen election data with Trump?

David Ignatius: How Carter Page got tangled up in the Russian web

Eugene Robinson: God bless the ‘deep state’

Greg Sargent: As explosive new Russia revelations hit Trump, Republicans throw him a lifeline