The Washington Post
President Donald Trump has been obsessed with the stain Russiaâ€™s interference in the 2016 election has left on his presidency. His refusal to recognize that interference, his willingness to accept Russian President Vladimir Putinâ€™s propaganda denying responsibility, and his incessant lying about his family and his campaign staffâ€™s Russian contacts - during the campaign, during special counsel Robert Muellerâ€™s investigation and post-Mueller - can be seen as pieces of one giant effort to dispel the idea that he didnâ€™t win fair and square. Of course, he didnâ€™t win fair and square.
My Washington Post colleague Philip Bump writes, â€śIn the past, Trump has often claimed that Russia didnâ€™t affect the 2016 vote, but, as we detailed shortly after Muellerâ€™s report came out, the hacking and WikiLeaks dumps almost certainly did affect how Americans voted, perhaps to a significant degree.â€ť Bump explains, â€śDiscussion of the material stolen from (Clinton campaign leader) John Podesta swamped other coverage for much of October 2016, despite there being relatively little information in the documents that offered much insight into Clintonâ€™s candidacy.â€ť And most damning, Trump â€śeagerly hyped the ongoing WikiLeaks releases during October, declaring at one point that he loved WikiLeaks for its efforts.â€ť
In Trumpâ€™s frantic efforts to relegitimize an election tainted by Russian interference, he occasionally slips up. He got so carried away falsely denying that he helped fan the Russian propaganda and that he and his associates publicly and privately summoned Russia to help him, that he inadvertently acknowledged in a tweet - since deleted, in what would be quintessential evidence of consciousness of guilt - â€śRussia, Russia, Russia! Thatâ€™s all you heard at the beginning of this Witch Hunt Hoax. And now Russia has disappeared because I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected. It was a crime that didnâ€™t exist.â€ť
The first volume of Muellerâ€™s report finds that a criminal conspiracy could not be established, but the actions Mueller details most show Trump and his associates certainly aided and abetted Russia in interfering - and helped cover Russian tracks (by obsessive denial of inarguable intelligence findings).
Mueller wrote in Volume I: â€śAlthough the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.â€ť
Unfortunately, some of that material is redacted:
â€śThe Trump Campaign showed interest in the WikiLeaks releases and, in the summer and fall of 2016, --------------------------- After ------------ WikiLeaksâ€™s first Clinton-related release -------, the Trump Campaign stayed in contact ------- about WikiLeaksâ€™s activities. The investigation was unable to resolve ------------ WikiLeaksâ€™s release of the stolen Podesta emails on October 7, 2016, the same day a video from years earlier was published of Trump using graphic language about women.â€ť
However, the report also contains plenty of unredacted evidence of the Trump campaignâ€™s efforts to make use of Russian assistance. â€śAccording to (Rick) Gates, by the late summer of 2016, the Trump Campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign, and messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks.â€ť Mueller then presents evidence of attempts to solicit dirt from Russians by Trump campaign figures such as George Papadopoulos, Carter Page and Donald Trump Jr., in addition to candidate Trumpâ€™s call for Russia to release Clinton emails. Mueller documents the degree to which Trump made use of the WikiLeaks email hacking and dump in the closing days of the campaign.
This conduct was not under current law a criminal conspiracy, because that would require a tangible agreement between Trumpâ€™s campaign and Russians. (â€śThe investigation did not establish that the contacts described in Volume I, Section IV, supra, amounted to an agreement to commit any substantive violation of federal criminal law - including foreign-influence and campaign-finance laws. . . . The Office therefore did not charge any individual associated with the Trump Campaign with conspiracy to commit a federal offense arising from Russia contacts.â€ť)
That nevertheless leaves a large body of evidence that Trump and those working for him encouraged Russian interference, gave the Russians every reason to believe the campaign would not go to U.S. intelligence authorities and then assisted in the Russian effort to disclaim responsibility.
So, yes, Trump and his team most certainly did help Russia interfere with the election. Itâ€™s that conduct Republicans declare to be unbothered by. Trump won, and you canâ€™t prove Russia changed votes in the requisite states, they say. True, but we have proved Trump betrayed his country by inviting and covering up a hostile countryâ€™s effort to put their stooge in the Oval Office. Thatâ€™s precisely the kind of conduct the framers had in mind in drafting the impeachment provisions.
Imagine if President Barack Obama had had the same relationship with China or Saudi Arabia or even a friendly power. Republicans would have called him out as un-American, disloyal, a Manchurian candidate. Heâ€™d have been booted out of office. At some level, Trump must grasp this, and it must just drive him nuts that his greatest â€śachievementâ€ť isnâ€™t an achievement he earned on his own, but at least in part the product of impeachable conduct.