Collusion: a conspiracy or secret agreement, especially for fraudulent purposes; a secret understanding between two or more persons to gain something illegally, or to appear as adversaries though in agreement.
The phrase “to appear as adversaries though in agreement” seems to perfectly describe the strange behavior of Donald Trump and his advisers when it comes to Vladimir Putin and his cronies. Something is rotten in DC, and Trump and his fellow travelers are on a collusion course with history.
Trump and members of his inner circle repeatedly denied meeting with Russian officials during the campaign and the transition. The facts say otherwise, and Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell has connected the dots:
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign after it became clear he lied about his involvement with Russians. His lies cost him his job and what little was left of his reputation – a reputation already irreparably damaged by his trading in crackpot conspiracy theories.
Newly-minted Attorney-General Jeff Sessions also denied meeting with the Russians. But when confronted with evidence to the contrary, he was forced to admit he met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign.
That admission contradicted oral and written testimony he gave during his confirmation hearing in the Senate; and since that testimony was given under oath, he is subject to a perjury charge.
Sessions lamely claimed these were simply misstatements he made due to confusion or forgetfulness. But that claim was met with widespread skepticism, and more than a hundred members of Congress have called for his resignation.
Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort continues to insist he had no direct contact with Russian officials. But in the unlikely event that claim is true, it’s beside the point, because of Manafort’s ties to Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Putin former president of Ukraine. Manafort was forced to resign from the Trump campaign because of those ties and allegations he received at least thirteen million dollars in secret payments from Yanukovych.
Trump business associate Felix Sater and Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen also denied meeting with Russian officials. But once again, that’s beside the point, since both were involved in Ukraine politics. The exact nature of their involvement is unknown, but it’s a safe bet they favored Russian interests.
Russian interests were also served when Trump aides insisted language that favored Ukraine be removed from a plank in the Republican Party platform. Trump has repeatedly said he had nothing to do with that; but another of his advisers, J.D. Gordon, now says otherwise. Indeed, he claims Trump ordered the change.
For months, Carter Page, another shadowy figure in Trump’s inner circle, denied meeting with Russian officials. But faced with increasing scrutiny, he has finally admitted (sort of) meeting with Kislyak, but he refused to say what the meeting was about. It’s a safe bet he also met with Igor Sechin, CEO of Russia’s state-run oil company Rosneft. He reportedly offered Page a deal to broker the sale of a 19.5% interest in Rosneft, in return for lifting sanctions against Russia.
The brokerage fee on that multi-billion-dollar transaction would have been worth millions. But from public records, it appears Page was not involved in brokering the deal – appears being the operative word, since the real buyer or buyers of the 19.5% interest in Rosneft remain a mystery.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner also met with Kislyak. That meeting was held in Trump Tower; but unlike the many other supplicants ceremoniously paraded through the front door, Kislyak was secreted in through a private entrance. If, as alleged, this was just a routine meet and greet, why all the secrecy? Good question, and we’re still waiting for an answer.
We’re also still waiting to find out why there were so many persistent denials about all of these meetings, and more importantly, what was discussed during them. So far we’ve been told only that these were simply courtesy visits, during which season’s greetings were offered. Beyond that, aides to Trump claim they can’t recall what was said or even what subject matter was discussed.
That is, of course, utter nonsense, since newspapers at the time were filled with stories about Russian interference in the campaign and stories about the new sanctions placed on Russia by the Obama administration. To deny that those subjects came up in those meetings strains credulity to the breaking point.
There is a strong and growing suspicion those subjects were in fact the point of the meetings and that some or all of these men may have intimated – at the very least – that if the Russians helped put Trump in the White House, the sanctions would be lifted. If it can be proven such a quid pro quo existed, that could bring down Trump and send some of his closest associates to prison.
So far, there is no hard evidence to confirm that suspicion, certainly none that is admissible in a court of law. But when it comes to politics, there is another court – the court of public opinion. In that court, a strong suspicion is admissible.
Former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev had his own suspicion in an interview with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC. He flatly stated that in any meeting with Russian officials, the first order of business – even before a handshake – should have been to demand all election interference cease immediately – or else. In his opinion, the failure to do so amounted to tacit approval.
A wink and a nod “diplomacy” is all too apparent in this case. And in the court of public opinion, a wink and a nod can be as damning as a signed confession.
But the best evidence of collusion came straight from the horse’s – er, mouth. Time and again, Trump refused to say anything negative about Putin or condemn Russian aggression in Crimea and Ukraine. Nor did he even once condemn Russian involvement in the campaign, let alone demand that it end.
On the contrary, Trump repeatedly praised Putin and Wikileaks, and even went so far as to implore the Russians to hack and leak emails. That kind of behavior goes far beyond a wink and a nod … it goes straight to collusion … it goes to aiding and abetting a crime against the United States of America.
The nature and extent of that crime is yet to be determined. But if investigators want to get to the bottom of this sordid mess, they should follow the money – the billions of dollars Russian kleptocrats have siphoned-off from their country, and the billions more that could be stolen here under a kleptocratic president.
Given the scale of the corruption and the wealth and power of the individuals involved, prosecuting this case may take years; and sad to say, there may never be enough evidence to convict any of them in a court of law. But meantime, they will be judged in the court of public opinion.
And so will Republicans in Congress. If they fail to thoroughly and relentlessly pursue this matter, the court of public opinion may render some verdicts of its own come the 2018 midterms.
©2017 Tom Cordle