Collusion. The word that’s dominated political discussions for the past two years. Who would’ve thought we’d still be talking about it, right?
Yet here we are, and the Trump administration seems to be changing its tune surrounding the heated issue as of late.
Where associates of the president used to declare no collusion ever happened, some are now saying simply that collusion isn’t a crime. And as Robert Mueller ramps up the pressure and former Trump officials are heading to court — albeit on charges unrelated to Russia — the game is on for the White House PR team to get ahead of criticism aimed at Donald Trump’s path to the Oval Office.
But while the Trump team insists it’s not a crime, other legal experts beg to differ, suggesting major ramifications if special counsel Robert Mueller finds any evidence to prove it.
So what does collusion really entail, legally speaking? Let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we?
On Fox News on Monday, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said there’s nothing to suggest that collusion is actually a crime.
“I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime,” Giuliani said. “Collusion is not a crime.”
On Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump echoed his attorney’s claims on Twitter.
Collusion is not a crime, but that doesn’t matter because there was No Collusion (except by Crooked Hillary and the Democrats)!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 31, 2018
So the statement under consideration is beautifully simple:
Collusion is not a crime.
Unfortunately, figuring out whether that claim is true or not isn’t quite as simple.
Now, it’s true that the term “collusion” doesn’t show up in the legal code for the issues at stake here. But that’s not necessarily because it’s not a crime.
In fact, it’s mainly just a buzzword picked up by media talking heads to refer to Russian meddling in the election.
In legal circles, however, the potential crimes under investigation go by a different moniker.
“Collusion is a crime,” said former FBI chief of staff Chuck Rosenberg on Monday. “We just happen to call it something else, we call it conspiracy, but it is absolutely a crime.”
Rosenberg went on to explain that no matter what you call it, conspiracy can undoubtedly put someone behind bars.
“You probably won’t find the crime bank heist in the criminal code but bank robbery is a crime too, and so I am sort of perplexed that it has come down to synonyms.”
Now, full disclosure: Rosenberg worked for the FBI under former Director James Comey, who, if you’ve kept track of the Russia inquiry at all over the past year or so, you know has some major beef with the president.
So I know what you’re thinking: why should we trust this guy who has ties to someone Trump has accused of bias and dishonesty?
Well, there’s another source where we can check about what exactly constitutes conspiracy, and whether it matches up with what we’ve all been referring to as collusion. It’s this little thing called the Department of Justice.
According to the Criminal Resource Manual of the Offices of the United States Attorneys at the DOJ, “conspiracy to defraud the United States” is defined as an effort “to interfere with or obstruct one of [the U.S. government’s] lawful governmental functions by deceit, craft or trickery.”
It’s a purposefully broad definition, but one that certainly encompasses everything we talk about when we mention collusion. Elections are a major part of the government’s functions, so any attempt to interfere (or “meddle”) in elections would most definitely spell conspiracy.
Fact or Fiction
“If these folks don’t know that collusion and conspiracy are synonyms for one another and this is a legal strategy, then they might want to consider changing horses in this race,” Rosenberg added on Monday.
Mueller has already accused Russian operatives of hacking the Democratic National Committee, among other efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Those crimes fall under the umbrella of conspiracy and other charges, and should the special counsel find that Americans assisted in those efforts, they’d likely be charged with conspiracy too.
All this to say: conspiracy is a crime. Which means, in other words, collusion is too.