Opinion: Evidence of collusion is substantial

12:00 p.m Friday, Nov. 3, 2017 Opinion
AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File
FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Trump is unleashing new criticism of the probes into possible ties between his campaign associates and Russia. Trump, in a series of tweets, is making reference to what he calls "phony Trump/Russia ‘collusion,’ which doesn’t exist." He says Democrats are using a “witch hunt” for “evil politics.”

“We’ve been saying from day one, there has been no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders reiterated this week.

Sanders is flat-out wrong. She is wrong not as a matter of interpretation, but as a matter of documented fact: We do have evidence of Trump-Russia collusion. It isn’t conclusive evidence; it may not even be convincing evidence. The most accurate description might be “considerable evidence” that the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government against their mutual enemy, Hillary Clinton.

Let’s begin with the basics: It is the unanimous conclusion of U.S. intelligence that Vladimir Putin personally directed the Russian government to try to alter our 2016 elections, and to take the side of Donald Trump.

How did that directive play out?

Based on a new guilty plea by Trump associate George Papadopoulus, we know that as far back as April of 2016, the Kremlin used backchannels to inform the Trump campaign that it had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of thousands of stolen emails. The Trump campaign that had said repeatedly, emphatically, that it had never had any contacts with Russian officials, that any such claim was “fake news,” was informed by Russia about illegal hacking some two months before anybody else had a clue. That is fact.

Ask yourself, because special counsel Robert Mueller surely has: Why would Russia want the Trump campaign to know it had a trove of illegally obtained Clinton emails? And once informed, why didn’t the Trump campaign notify U.S. law enforcement? Top officials from every presidential campaign in the last quarter-century, Republican and Democratic, have all said they would have reported such a contact to the FBI immediately.

Not the Trump campaign.

We also know for a fact that the Kremlin reached out a second time, again promising dirt on Clinton, and that the Trump campaign responded enthusiastically. On June 3, 2016, Donald Trump Jr. was sent an email telling him that Russia was offering “to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia.”

“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” the email read.

“… if it’s what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer,” Trump Jr. responded, which by itself is proof of an eagerness to collude. He quickly set up a meeting between someone described to him as “a Russian government lawyer” and top Trump campaign officials.

The meeting occurred on June 9, and not much seemed to come of it. But six days later, thousands of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee were made public through Wikileaks.

According to U.S. intelligence, “we assess with high confidence” that Russia conducted the hacking. Yet Trump publicly defended Russia against such charges, and talked so often about his admiration for Putin that it began to seem bizarre. He spoke dismissively of NATO, the alliance whose mission is to contain Putin. As president, he later fired FBI Director James Comey for not ending an investigation into Russian interference; the next day he bragged to top Russian officials about doing so. He also helped to fabricate a false explanation for the June 9 meeting at Trump Tower.

Again, such evidence, troubling as it is, doesn’t amount to conclusive proof. But it damn sure justifies strong support for the ongoing work of Mueller and his investigative team.