Opinion | Muftic: So what’s so wrong with colluding with the Russians?
So, what’s wrong with collusion? President Trump just spent two-and-a-half years afraid he would be accused of colluding with the Russians to help him get elected. Trump must have assumed “to collude” was against the law earlier, but after crowing he was cleared of collusion by special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump threw his gears in reverse to claim there was nothing wrong with collusion and he would do it again in 2020. In effect, he laid out the welcome mat for foreign interference from any foreign adversary in future American elections. If he tries to do what he did in 2016 inviting Russian interference and receiving dirt on opponents, he could be accused of a crime, whether or not he conspired or colluded.
Also for the past two and a half years. Donald Trump has been endeavoring to subvert the investigation by firing and attempting to fire the investigators and impugning the integrity of the FBI as some deep state out to get him. Per the Mueller report, there were a dozen incidents of obstructing the investigation, including recruiting subordinates and supporters to fire Mueller, and Mueller could not find evidence to clear him of obstruction. Because of the Department of Justice rules, he also could not indict a sitting president for the crime of obstruction of justice. Trump has continued with his oft-repeated line: “no collusion, no obstruction” and his supporters believe him.
The collusion reference defends on a definition or by whom or by what law defines it. He was pointedly not cleared (exonerated) of obstruction by Robert Mueller.
“Collusion” was not investigated by Special Counsel Mueller. Collusion is a broad, popular term. However, “conspiracy”, the actual criminal act named in the criminal code Mueller did investigate. Here is how Mueller defined it in his report: “In evaluating whether evidence about collective action of multiple individuals constituted a crime, we applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of collusion… Collusion is not a specific offense found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law taking actions that were informed by or responsive to the other’s actions or interests” in election interference. Mueller then cleared Trump of violating his (Mueller’s) narrow definition of the “conspiracy” statutes for lack of evidence.
Trump’s then tried narrowing the definition of legal collusion was just receiving dirt, opposition research, from anyone (foreign or not) on an opponent. and that was OK. It is not and there was much more contained in the definition of such activities. Oops, President Trump. “It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.” per the Federal election laws. Now you know, Mr. President, so if you intend to accept dirt from Russia or anything else of value in 2020, you are committing a crime.
Certainly, dirt about a political opponent is of value to a candidate. In fact, if it is intentional, it can be referred to the FBI for criminal prosecution. If it is by accident or unaware of the law, the penalty can be fines.
When Donald Trump on the stump at a campaign rally famously called on the Russians to find Clinton’s missing emails, “Russians, are you listening if you can find Hillary’s emails”, he was soliciting Russia to get him something of value. If he would have accepted the missing emails, which did not happen, he would have also broken the law by receiving something of value from the Russians, but being a political novice, his ignorance of the law could be excused. After this flap last week, he is no longer ignorant of the law.
Why object to foreigners influencing American elections? Foreign interference in elections harms the sovereignty of the nation, shaping American citizens’ opinion and hacking and controlling election results so that citizens are discouraged from voting or being registered or actually changing the votes. in 2016, Russians demonstrated they could hack election tallies in a few counties though there was no evidence they changed voters votes. In 2016 those Russian measures were geared to electing a president who had better and kinder views of their foreign government’s policies than Hillary Clinton, even though Trump’s policies might be contrary to American national interests. In the case of Russia, candidate Trump favored lifting sanctions, called NATO’s mutual defense clauses obsolete, and generally admired Putin so ardently, his relationship with Putin was termed a “bromance.” Russia’s use of social media was targeted to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump, per Mueller. How and who did it was also laid out in detail in Vol. 1 of the Mueller report. In fact, twenty-five Russian spies, hackers, and GRU military intelligence operatives, and two Russian companies were indicted by the Grand Jury and the vivid details of how they did it were laid out in the Mueller report and in earlier court filings of indictments. In short, Americans who fell for the bots, ads, and social media postings that intensified mistrust and hatred of Clinton while extolling the virtues of Bernie Sanders, and the Green Party, stayed home or voted Green with an “I don’t like either Trump or Clinton” rationale. Post-2016 studies by PEW concluded that the non-voters in the key industrial states actually were decided by potential Clinton voters who did not vote.
In retrospect, many marveled of how sophisticated the Russians were in targeting their social media to suppress the particular potential Clinton voters. In the Mueller report, we learned that campaign manager Paul Manafort had been sharing Trump internal campaign polling data with a business associate in Ukraine, Konstantin Kilimnik, who had training by Russian intelligence and had close connections with Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch and friend of Putin, one of many oligarchs the Obama administration had sanctioned in 2014 for Russian incursions into eastern Ukraine.
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