CUMBERLAND — Since the revelation last summer that Donald Trump Jr. said “I love it” at the prospect of colluding with the Russians in June 2016, the case for collusion between Russia and the senior Trump’s election campaign has only grown in clarity. Whether collusion confirmed by special counsel Robert Mueller would make for a slam-dunk impeachment case, however, is a matter for another day and legal experts to debate. Today, I would like to step through the publicly available body of evidence.

While not yet officially confirmed, it does not take more than a cursory review of widely available news reports to conclude that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia and WikiLeaks to release Russian-hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the weeks and months leading up to the 2016 presidential election. The body of evidence is simple and straightforward, centered on Trump Jr., Trump campaign foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos and longtime Trump political adviser Roger Stone.

In summary, the body of evidence is as follows. Last summer, it was reported that Trump Jr. was notified via email in June 2016 that the Russians were actively working to assist his father’s campaign. Upon the prospect of receiving “dirt on Hillary Clinton” as part of that effort, Trump Jr. said “I love it,” indicating explicit willingness to collude. Last October, it was reported that Papadopoulos learned of the Russian-hacked DNC-Clinton emails in April 2016, well in advance of their release several months later. And lastly, both Trump Jr. and Stone are on record as having directly communicated with WikiLeaks late in the 2016 election cycle via Twitter’s direct message system.

The vast majority of this information was publicly available as far back as last October, but took shape with a bang this February when NBC reported that Mueller is investigating “possible coordination” between WikiLeaks and Trump associates. With regard to President Trump’s persistent claims that the Mueller investigation is nothing but a “witch hunt,” methinks “the lady doth protest too much.”

The Trump Jr. “I love it” email revelation represents the core of the collusion case. It revealed a critical relationship between President Trump and a family with reported ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and thus a logical path to coordination and a lens through which to view and interpret other pieces of evidence.

In June 2016, according to The New York Times, Trump Jr. received an email promising “dirt on Hillary Clinton” from Rob Goldstone, the agent of Russian pop star Emin Agalarov. The singer’s father, Aras Agalarov, is a real estate magnate sometimes called the “Donald Trump of Russia.” The Times reported that Aras “boasts close ties” to Putin, has “won several large state building contracts” and was awarded the Order of Honor of the Russian Federation by Putin. President Trump is no stranger to Aras, as they worked together to bring the Miss Universe contest to Moscow in 2013.

With regard to the “dirt on Hillary Clinton,” Goldstone said, in his initial email to Trump Jr., “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin.” Taken in conjunction with Trump’s history with Aras, Goldstone’s statement largely eradicates plausible deniability.

Against this backdrop, the fact Papadopoulos knew about the hacked DNC-Clinton emails well in advance of their release in the summer and fall of 2016, and that Trump Jr. and political adviser Stone were in direct communication with WikiLeaks around the time of the release, paints a disturbingly clear picture of collusion.

If The Times does not beat him to it with an inside scoop, I suspect there is one final Mueller report to come that officially confirms a Trump campaign-coordinated handoff of Russian-hacked DNC-Clinton emails from Russia to WikiLeaks.

Confirmed collusion does not necessarily equal impeachment. There is a good chance the national conversation on political corruption that would inevitably ensue would place Trump-Russia collusion in the context of, say, Bill Clinton’s collusion on the tarmac with then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch. The bigger issue is how Democrats respond politically.

Democrats are “all in” on impeachment, with nothing in the way of a policy response to the politically independent President Trump. Without an impeachment, the Democratic candidate is likely to lose to Trump in 2020 on policy. To win in 2020, Democrats need to out-Trump Trump.

 


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