Susan Hennessey, Quinta Jurecic, Matthew Kahn, Lev Sugarman, Benjamin Wittes write:
The White House line throughout L’Affaire Russe has been that there was “NO COLLUSION” between the Trump campaign and Russia. Days before his inauguration, Donald Trump declared on Twitter, “I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!” In September 2018, he wrote, “Russian Collusion with the Trump Campaign, one of the most successful in history, is a TOTAL HOAX.”
Special Counsel Robert Mueller has never flatly announced that this broad public contention is a lie. He has, rather, meticulously chipped away at it—one indictment at a time, one plea agreement at a time—with the substance of successive prosecutorial actions. First, the court documents related to the plea of Trump campaign foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos were unsealed—telling the story of how Papadopoulos was told by an apparent Russian cutout that the Kremlin had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails,” months before the DNC and Podesta emails were leaked to the public. Then came the plea of former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn in December 2017 on charges of lying to investigators over, among other things, contacts during the presidential transition with Russian officials. Two months later, Mueller unspooled a detailed account of a systematic social media influence operation conducted by an entity owned by a friend of Vladimir Putin’s. In July 2018, Mueller’s office moved the story closer to the Kremlin itself, indicting 12 officials of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, for hacking and leaking emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Most recently, in the case of one-time Trump attorney Michael Cohen, Mueller has asserted in court documents that the Trump Organization’s efforts to construct a Trump Tower Moscow went on well into the 2016 presidential campaign and detailed the contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials and cutouts on the matter.
Today, the special counsel brought the story inside the Trump campaign, alleging that Roger Stone longtime gadfly political operative had acted as a kind of back channel between the campaign and WikiLeaks—funneling information between Julian Assange and senior officials of the Trump campaign about forthcoming releases of purloined emails. No, this is not the smoking gun many have been waiting for. A lot of the information contained in the indictment has been in the press for a while—and in any event, the relationship it alleges between the campaign and the Russian government is a complicated, and somewhat attenuated, one. But if the Roger Stone indictment doesn’t quite allege “collusion” between the Trump campaign and the Russians, it unambiguously alleges—in the language of Robert Mueller’s appointment letter—“links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” Specifically, the indictment alleges that Stone and WikiLeaks were together coordinating between the Russian government and the Trump campaign over the release of information that, by then, had been publicly reported by Crowdstrike and many press outlets to have been stolen by the Russian government. [Continue reading…]