A large proportion of Donald Trump’s tweets and speeches vehemently claim there was “no collusion” between Trump and/or his campaign and agents of the Russian government. (The Washington Post counts 146 such denials — 2.4 for every day of Trump’s Presidency — as of January 11, 2018 — and climbing.)
Trump is lying.
What is already publicly known makes a prima facie case that a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States government and the American people was formed between Russian operatives and the highest levels the Trump campaign, perhaps including Donald Trump himself.
Hundreds of denials from Trump and the White House can’t erase this truth.
The outlines of the criminal conspiracy were already published last July in newspaper reports about the infamous June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting between a Russian lawyer connected to Russian intelligence and Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort.
The existence of the criminal conspiracy was reinforced by new information released this week by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Legal Elements
Legally, a criminal conspiracy commences when two or more people agree to commit an unlawful act, and then take some overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy. Criminal conspiracy does not require that the ultimate ends of the conspiracy are ever actually carried out.
For example, let’s say that the Trump campaign wanted to break into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee to try to find dirt on the campaign and Hillary Clinton.
Sound familiar? Republican operatives’ break-in of DNC headquarters was what precipitated the Watergate scandal.
And let’s say that Russian operatives contacted top officials of the Trump campaign to say they had the code to the DNC’s security system, would turn that information over at a meeting, and Trump campaign officials attended that meeting and requested the codes.
A criminal conspiracy would likely exist, even if no codes were ever delivered and no break-in ever occurred . And if President Trump either encouraged the meeting, and/ or took overt steps to cover it up, President Trump could be one of the criminal conspirators.
In short, for there to be a criminal conspiracy, the conspirators do not have to actually carry out the break-in. It’s enough if they intend to facilitate such a break-in and take at least one overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.
So, if Russian operatives contacted Donald Trump, Jr. to say they had dirt on Hillary Clinton, and Trump, Jr. wrote back “I love it” and took the meeting, along with Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, in the expectation of receiving such dirt, taking the meeting likely meets the threshold for a criminal conspiracy. The agreement to meet to obtain such illegal material is the seed of the conspiracy, and taking the meeting and asking that the material be provided is the necessary overt act, even if no material was ever actually provided them.
What We Know
It’s been public knowledge since last summer that in July, 2016, Trump, Jr. was contacted by an intermediary to inform him that a Russian lawyer with ties to Russia’s “crown prosecutor” (the accurate title would have been Russia’s attorney general) could provide “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia.”
The intermediary’s email to Trump, Jr. stated that “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russian and it’s government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Seventeen minutes later, Trump Jr. emailed back “I love it.”
In Congressional testimony, Trump Jr. confirmed that he was talking about the Clinton information when he wrote, “I love it.” Testifying as to what he was referring to when he wrote, “I love it,” Trump Jr. stated:
“A (by Trump,Jr.): Potential information about an opponent.
Q: Potential incriminating information about Hillary Clinton?
Six days later, Trump, Jr. attended the Trump Tower meeting with the Russian operative and other Russians, accompanied by Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort.
According to Congressional testimony by one of the attendees, Trump, Jr. opened the meeting by saying something like, “So you have some information for us?” Another attendee testified that Trump Jr. asked “if they got anything on Hillary.”
The testimony indicates that no material was actually delivered at the meeting. But that doesn’t absolve Trump, Jr., Eric Trump, and Manafort of criminal conspiracy. If they agreed to attend a meeting with a Russian operative intending to obtain information obtained by a foreign government to help the Trump campaign, and they opened the meeting by asking for the information, then a criminal conspiracy was formed and an overt act in its furtherance occurred.
It’s not necessary to this analysis, but we all know that shortly thereafter, Wikileaks did start to leak dirt on Hillary Clinton stolen by Russian operatives from DNC computers in a cyber break-in.
Based on this evidence, and other evidence the public may not yet know, there’s a strong case for Robert Mueller to charge Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort with criminal conspiracy.
Indeed, the first charge already brought by Mueller against Manafort is that he and his associate, Richard Gates, “intentionally conspired to defraud the United States by impeding, impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of a government agency, namely the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury, and to commit offenses against the United States.”
Is Trump a Conspirator?
Which brings us to the question of whether Donald Trump himself is a member of this criminal conspiracy.
While Trump Jr. may not flip on his own father, if Kushner and/or Manafort face long prison sentences for this and other crimes, there’s a good chance that one or both could flip and testify against President Trump.
Right now, there are at least two bases on which President Trump could be charged as one of the criminal conspirators in connection with the Trump Tower meeting.
It is already public knowledge that President Trump participated in drafting a misleading press release claiming that the Trump Tower meeting wasn’t about stolen Clinton dirt. Instead, the press release claimed that the meeting was about Russian orphans, which is shorthand for lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia under the Magnitsky Act, which was enacted to punish Russia for the death of an attorney investigating Russian government financial fraud, and was met by a Russian ban on US families adopting Russian orphans.)
It’s not illegal, in and of itself, to help draft a false press release--If it were, then half our politicians would likely be behind bars. But if the intent of the false press release was to mislead law enforcement and the public that the Trump Tower meeting was not intended by Trump campaign officials to obtain dirt from Russian operatives on Hillary Clinton, but to talk about orphans, then helping draft the false press release could be an overt act by President Trump in furtherance of the criminal conspiracy, which would make President Trump one of the conspirators.
The second basis for implicating President Trump as one of the criminal conspirators would be if President Trump knew about and approved of the Trump Tower meeting either before, or shortly thereafter.
Here’s what’s publicly known thus far about that question. According to the Senate Judiciary Committee report, three days before the Trump Tower meeting at 4:04 PM, Trump Jr. received a call from one of the Russian intermediaries and they spoke for one to two minutes. At 4:27 PM, Trump Jr. had a 4-minute call with an unidentified blocked number. At 4:31, Trump Jr. called back the Russian intermediary and spoke to him again for three minutes.
Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski testified that President Trump’s primary residence uses a blocked number. When asked by the Senate Judiciary whether the blocked number calls could have been with his father, Trump Jr. testified, ” I don’t know.”
It will be interesting, to say the least, if Mueller has the means to discover if the calls to the blocked number was to President Trump’s phone. If they were, the timing strongly suggests President Trumps knowledge, and likely approval, of the Trump Tower meeting.
But even without that evidence, there’s a strong prima facie case that, in attending the Trump Tower meeting with the expectation of obtaining damaging information on Hillary Clinton from a Russian operative, Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort are guilty of criminal conspiracy. President Trump’s active participation in drafting the false press release could make him one of the criminal conspirators. And if the blocked number was President Trump’s, it could be icing on the cake to President Trumps participation in the conspiracy.
And the Democratic Congressional leadership wants to silence Democrats from even mentioning impeachment?