Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) was explicit during an interview Sunday: There was collusion between members of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russians interested in affecting the election’s outcome.
“I made this distinction all along,” Schiff said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” “and that is while there is abundant evidence of collusion, the issue from a criminal point of view is whether there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt of a criminal conspiracy.”
There was, in fact, “direct evidence” of collusion, he said: “the emails from the Russians through their intermediary offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of what is described in writing as the Russian government effort to help elect Donald Trump.” That is, the emails that set up the meeting in Trump Tower on June 9, 2016.
On Tuesday morning, a host on Trump’s favorite morning show, “Fox and Friends,” offered a differing opinion.
The investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, Ainsley Earhardt said, “has proven no collusion, and now Democrats are now trying to find a crime.” This, of course, was an echo of Trump himself, who has been declaring that no collusion took place since well before we learned about things such as that Trump Tower meeting. One gets the sense that nothing might rise to the standard that Trump would set as proof of collusion — but, then, Schiff is surely not himself immune to viewing his understanding of collusion through a lens that aids him and his party politically.
“Collusion” is an unsatisfying term for any number of reasons. First, there’s no federal criminal statute relating to “collusion,” so there’s no definition of what it constitutes. Second, it’s a nebulous term, possibly referring to any range of actions. A reasonable person can see both Schiff’s and Trump’s points: Clearly Donald Trump Jr. indicated an interest in receiving information from the Russians that would aid his father’s campaign, and, yet, Trump himself hasn’t been directly connected to any Russian effort. It’s mixed up with uncertainty, differing narratives and partisanship.
So let’s cut this Gordian knot. We created a tool that allows you to tell us how you’d define collusion as having occurred, with some degree of nuance.
It asks that you consider two main things. First, what level of engagement by Trump’s campaign was necessary? Trump himself? A senior campaign staff member or adviser such as Trump Jr.? Multiple staff members? An outsider such as Roger Stone? Second, what must that collusion have looked like? Is it simply turning a blind eye to the interference effort? Or does it necessitate actual agreement with a Russian agent?
There are complicating factors, too. If it involved a lower-tier actor on the part of the campaign, is it collusion only if Trump knew? Does it count if an intermediary was involved?
We also are asking you to identify how you feel about Trump, so we can see how partisanship overlaps with these views.
What is the minimum that would constitute collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia?
How do you feel about Trump?
Once you’ve recorded your position on the subject, you’ll see the most popular response from Post readers (who, of course, are a smart bunch). You can come back later and click the “just show answers” button to see how things evolve as more answers are recorded.
The graphs at the bottom show two things. First, the overall responses, distributed from left to right by how closely they implicate Trump directly. The height of the gray bars indicates the number of responses.
Below that, the same information cross-referenced by party identity, from heavily pro-Trump to heavily anti-Trump. Clicking on any bar or box will show what group or definition is being displayed.
A day after we launched this tool, the results showed an interesting dichotomy. At one end was a cluster of responses that suggested collusion include things like Trump being aware of Russia’s interference efforts and doing nothing about it. At the other end, Trump agreeing to accept Russia’s help through an intermediary or a senior campaign staffer accepting it directly. That’s the gulf that exists in the debate: Two broadly differing standards.
In a broad sense, the term as we’re collectively using it is indefinable. It’s the old know-it-when-you-see-it, but with the added confusion of people seeing different things in different lights. The consensus reached by Post readers will not be sufficient to establish a definitive standard because some — Trump included — will always have a reason to play down the idea that collusion took place.
If video emerged of Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shaking hands and signing a document reading, “Agreement to Collude on the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election,” maybe Trump’s assertion would waver. What we’re asking, in essence, is how many of you agree that something similar is the necessary bar?