Journalists unearth new and illuminating facts in the Russia story each day. Investigators are looking into multiple fronts of the Trump campaign including contacts with the Russians and personal finances. Even if the Trump campaign did everything legally, the most likely crimes have occurred through false or misleading statements to the US government.
Merriam Webster defines collusion as secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat or deceive others. However, one isn’t going to find the definition of collusion in any specific federal law. Collusion is a term settled upon by the media, however, its connotation is ambiguous. Many people in the mainstream media use it as a term that can cover a wide range of crimes. While on the other hand, it can be used as a persuasive tool by some media outlets to dismiss the Trump-Russia story because collusion itself isn’t a crime. In short, collusion means nothing within the legal system. Politico Magazine states, “What is important within the legal system is what kind of cooperation might have taken place between the Trump campaign and Russia, and in what way.” So, I will lay out definitions of crimes that might be looked at in the Trump-Russia story.
• Treason – whoever owing allegiance to the United States adheres to their enemies (18 USC 115)
• Conspiracy – if two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy (18 USC 371)
• Aiding or abetting whoever commits an offense against the US (18 USC 2)
• Fraud and related activity in connection with computers (18 USC 1030)
• Foreign nationals cannot “directly or indirectly” give a “thing of value” to American political campaigns (52 USC 30121)
• Perjury – False or misleading statements to the federal government (18 USC 1621)
• Obstruction of justice (18 USC Chapter 73)
Foreign governments do not frequently interfere in US politics but there are examples.
The first historical example of collusion in politics is Richard Nixon and the Vietnam peace talks. Nixon thought a Vietnam peace deal would help his 1968 opponent, Hubert Humphreys, so he ordered his closest aid to throw a “monkey wrench” into the deal. Next, Ronald Reagan’s campaign is accused of working with Iran to delay the release of American hostages in hopes of favoring his election. Gary Sick, senior staff to Reagan, outlined circumstantial evidence of this collusion in his book but also says there is no smoking gun that would absolutely confirm the allegations. The third case occurred in 1996 when questions were raised of Chinese funds in Democratic campaigns, however, no direct links were found to substantiate the claims.
There are stark differences in comparing the Nixon and Reagan stories to the Trump-Russia. In the previous incidents, the collusion only swayed public opinion on one issue. In Trump-Russia story, foreign interference undermined and manipulated public opinion on multiple issues. Second, Russia interference goes well beyond just influencing public opinion because it touches campaign strategy and electoral manipulation. The last difference is the timing of the stories. The Nixon and Reagan stories ultimately unraveled after their presidencies and even their deaths. In the Trump presidency, everyday another shoe drops and another bombshell erupts. The portrayal of the Trump-Russia story is also unique because there are two different realities. On one hand, the White House and the conservative media claim this story is #FakeNews, false or a witch hunt. On the other hand, the liberal media covers the Trump-Russia story 24/7. Finally, an important point is there are active investigations including House Intelligence, Senate Intelligence and a Special Counsel – something that didn’t occur with either Nixon or Reagan’s stories.