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The Question Arises Again: Did Russians and the Trump Campaign Collude?

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 05: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on August 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump administration officials and Democratic Congressional leaders continue to negotiate on an extension of the unemployment benefits and an additional coronavirus economic stabilization and relief package.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
By Richard Dahl on August 28, 2020 12:03 PM

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.

Does this old reasoning test, which we've all heard a thousand times, apply to the latest Senate investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign and its connections to Russians? To apply that old analogy, if it looks like collusion, is it collusion? And if it really is collusion, then what?

The results of the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee investigation were released Aug. 18 and indicated that the Trump campaign and various Russians were working together to get Trump elected.

In many respects, the conclusions reached in the Committee investigation were similar to the 448-page report last year by special prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III. Mueller found that the interaction between the Trump campaign and the Russians didn't rise to the level of criminal conspiracy. However, Mueller did find evidence of contact between Trump organization officials and Russians, providing some 200 pages of details.

Shortly after it was released, and prior to the report becoming public knowledge, Attorney General William P. Barr summarized the Mueller report in four pages, highlighting the conclusion that Mueller was not recommending prosecuting criminal conspiracy charges. This report led President Trump and his lawyers to claim “total vindication.”

Mueller disagreed with this conclusion, explaining in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last July that “[w]e did not address 'collusion,' which is not a legal term," he said. “Rather, we focused on whether the evidence was sufficient to charge any member of the campaign with taking part in a criminal conspiracy. It was not."

Senate Committee Results

Barr and President Trump have continued to dismiss the Mueller report as “bogus."

Their position is unlikely to change even after a bipartisan Senate committee has weighed in with an even lengthier, 966-page report. While the Senate’s report covers much of the same ground as the Mueller report, it also provides new information.

For instance, the latest report describes the relationship between Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Konstantin V. Kilimnik in more ominous terms than did Mueller. Mueller had identified Kilimnik as a person with ties to Russian intelligence, but the Senate committee determined that Kilimnik was himself a Russian intelligence officer. The report concluded that the willingness of Manafort to share information with Kilimnik and others connected to Russian intelligence “created a grave counterintelligence threat."

The Senate report, which included Republican members, began shortly after Trump was elected. The Aug. 18 report was the fifth and final of its findings.

Will There Be an Impact?

So what, in the end, does all this mean? There certainly hasn't been a huge outcry from a citizenry dealing with a pandemic and economic uncertainty. Maybe it just means we need to be more vigilant in the future about the dangers of foreign interference in our elections.

Finally, back to the original question about collusion: Does this mean that we've learned anything about what that word means?

Even though the report showed that the Trump campaign chairman was actively working with a Russian intelligence agent to tilt the election, Committee Chairman Marco Rubio concluded “without any hesitation" that there was no evidence of collusion.

Democrats on the committee disagreed, saying, “This is what collusion looks like."

And if it looks like collusion, does that make it collusion?

Round and round we go.

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