This week the Republican majority of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) announced the conclusion of its investigation into Russia and the 2016 U.S. election, concluding in a summary of the draft report, “We have found no evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians.”
As they say, HPSCI hath no fury like a Schiff scorned.
Naturally, the Democratic congressman and prominent Russiagate peddler Rep. Adam Schiff was incredulous.
Fascinatingly, in his press release castigating the Republican-led committee for closing its probe into among other things collusion between Russian officials and the Trump campaign that Schiff has adamantly alleged for over a year, the very word “collusion” was absent. Let us put a finer point on it: Those who subscribe to the Russiagate conspiracy theory have settled on “collusion” with Russia as the central charge against the Trump administration. Schiff has screamed it from the rooftops. Is it not curious this this allegation is missing from Schiff’s latest missive, replaced by “Russian interference” and the “the role of U.S. persons connected to the Trump campaign in that intervention?”
Let us also recognize that under a presidency that has generated hyperbolic partisan action ranging from a slew of attacks on President Trump’s mental fitness pointing towards 25th Amendment removal, to the drawing of impeachment papers, “collusion” would appear to be a relatively restrained charge. This might indicate an implicit lack of confidence in there being any “there” there among the president’s detractors and believers in nefarious Russia dealings.
‘Collusion’ Is Not In Itself A Crime
The trouble with the notion of “collusion” — or perhaps its attractiveness depending on your perspective — is that it is an amorphous catchall. It does not constitute a crime. The closest related crime would be a conspiracy to commit an offense against or defraud the United States. Therefore, in context of a special counsel investigation for example, which requires that a crime be cited, it should be meaningless.
As former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy wrote back in August 2017:
The lack of an apparent crime — which would cause a normal prosecutor to close his investigative file — has become a blank check for [special counsel Robert] Mueller. Trump’s Justice Department having failed to place limits on his warrant, the special counsel is free to conduct a fishing expedition. Mueller has used his bottomless budget to hire a legion of lawyers with a history of Democratic-party activism and hardball prosecutorial aggression. The vaporous concept of collusion implies no boundaries on Mueller’s jurisdiction.
There is reason to believe the Mueller team thinks otherwise, something perhaps to be adjudicated as the seemingly limitless investigation proceeds. Regardless, as Schiff has noted, it is not HPSCI’s job to prosecute a crime, but rather to provide oversight and inform the American people. In the hands of politicians, undefined “collusion” becomes a potent political weapon in which every meeting, statement and action can be cast as sinister.
However you define it, Schiff has indicated repeatedly that he is sure collusion occurred. Consider the history:
In March 2017, Schiff said, “There is circumstantial evidence of collusion,” between Russia and the Trump campaign. Later that month he asserted a link with even more confidence, telling Chuck Todd there was “more than circumstantial evidence,” though he could “not go into the particulars,” something Schiff has had a tendency to suggest over the last year.
In December 2017, The Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman summarized an exchange between CNN’s Jake Tapper and Schiff in which the host questioned the congressman on his evidence of collusion, noting conversations with him often follow this pattern: “Mr. Schiff has spent months commenting on the state of the evidence about Russia and the Trump campaign, and he’s claimed over and over that it points to collusion. What he has refused to do is disclose the evidence for his claims.”
In February 2018, Schiff told reporters, “There is already, in my view, ample evidence in the public domain on the issue of collusion if you’re willing to see it.”
Earlier this month, under questioning on The View, Schiff sang somewhat of a different tune. He noted that what is in the public domain is “pretty damning,” alluding briefly to the infamous George Papadopoulos and Trump Tower meetings.
All The Evidence Schiff Says Is ‘Pretty Damning’
Perhaps Schiff’s most comprehensive attempt at explaining Trump-Russia collusion came in a December 2017 editorial he published in The Wall Street Journal, where he cites five data points as evidence of collusion.
1. The April 2016 Papadopoulos meetings
The neophyte foreign policy adviser was allegedly informed that Russia had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of hacked emails. Papadopoulos would later plead guilty to making materially false statements and material omissions to the FBI regarding his conversations with Russian government-linked individuals. Note: he pled guilty to process crimes – a consistent theme in the Mueller investigation – not to any illegal activities associated with the meetings he took.
2. The June 2016 Trump Tower meeting
As Rep. Schiff argues, the Trump campaign participants came away from the meeting disappointed that they never obtained opposition research. Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya instead used the meeting to allegedly lobby against the Magnitsky Act and attack the man who inspired it, Bill Browder.
3. The summer release of hacked DNC emails disseminated through WikiLeaks, DC Leaks and Guccifer 2.0
While Schiff asserts these hacked emails came from the Russians, we still do not have independent confirmation from the U.S. government, as only a third-party investigator inspected the relevant hardware. Moreover, Schiff does not draw any direct link to the Trump campaign here, except to note that the then-candidate supported their release.
4. The Russian social media campaign
The campaign was to, in Schiff’s words, “help the Trump campaign, vilify Mrs. Clinton and sow general discord.” Note that the evidence of the Mueller indictment of 13 Russians in connection with these activities does not show singular support for Trump and attacks on Clinton, but rather that the Russians at varying times supported up to four candidates including both Trump and Clinton, all with the intent of “sow[ing] general discord.”
5. Then-National Security Advisor designate Gen. Mike Flynn allegedly “conspired” with Russia
Flynn allegedly “conspired secretly with the Russian ambassador to undermine the effect of the sanctions.” We now know however that according to none other than FBI Director James Comey, contrary to Schiff’s assertion and Flynn’s guilty plea, the FBI agents who interviewed Flynn regarding his call with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak indicated that they thought Flynn was being honest and not intentionally misleading them. Moreover, the interview itself was convened on highly dubious terms, and Flynn — in a conversation with a foreign counterpart that would appear reasonable — merely asked Kislyak that Russia, in the words of the statement of offense, “refrain from escalating the situation in response to U.S. sanctions against Russia.”
Schiff summarized the evidence like this: “Each of these contacts between the Russians, the Trump campaign, and the transition is now uncontested, yet time and again, the president’s team, and in some cases the president himself, had lied about them. To claim that these facts show no evidence of collusion requires a willingness to avoid seeing what is in plain sight, or to credit the self-serving explanations of the same Trump officials who misled the country about these same meetings.”
But is this really a compelling case?
Taking meetings with Russian officials with the belief they might yield information helpful to your campaign may reflect poor judgment, but do those meetings equal collusion or worse something illegal? Committing process crimes in conversations with law enforcement officials may look suspicious, but does it reflect an intent to conceal a plot to collude with Vladimir Putin? If indeed the Russians hacked and released the DNC emails, Schiff provides no evidence that the Trump campaign “colluded” with them in this act.
While Russia’s use of social media to support a variety of candidates and issues during the 2016 election provides a convenient scapegoat in Silicon Valley for Hillary Clinton’s loss, a rationale for regulating online political speech and an avenue to engage in legal extortion by threatening the tech titans with further regulation in exchange for protection in the form of campaign donations, the remarkably cheap operation did not collusion make. As the relevant Mueller indictment notes, “Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities. [emphasis mine]”
Lastly, is the national security advisor-designate’s discussion with a foreign counterpart regarding sanctions imposed on that counterpart’s nation just before the president-elect assumes office some kind of treasonous act?
Do these questions reveal willful blindness, or Schiff’s superhuman ability to see links that we cannot? What exactly is it that binds Schiff’s presumably strongest points together? To what end were these acts colluding towards? Do you find this “ample evidence” convincing? Or as Republican Rep. Mike Conaway who led the HPSCI probe intimates, is this all just a case of “bad judgment, inappropriate meetings, inappropriate judgment in taking meetings?”
The Context On Trump And Russia Schiff Ignores
If we stipulated that Schiff was pointing at disconcerting smoke regarding Russia, how, one wonders would Schiff weigh it against the ample evidence of the Trump team making moves detrimental to Russia? The Trump administration has among other things: Armed the Ukrainians; dramatically increased military sales to Europe; sold the Patriot missile defense shield to Poland; crushed Russian mercenary forces in Syria; is developing weapons pursuant to the new nuclear posture review that violate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty to counter Russia’s treaty-breaking efforts; is developing a missile defense strategy specifically oriented towards Russia; and is countering the Russia-backed Iran Deal. Does Schiff believe these are false flag acts meant to throw the nation off of the scent of Russia collusion?
The California congressman never points to a smoking gun or series of smoking guns tying the available data points together to craft a clear, compelling, cogent case for collusion. Given Schiff is politically adept and articulate, that he has not made the 30-second case tells us something about the strength of his position. Meanwhile, to my knowledge, he has never been asked to grapple with the contrary evidence of the administration’s actual policies.
And remember, the foregoing takes Schiff’s assertions at face value. We could examine the alleged deluge of leaks from his side of the HIPSCI aisle. We could point out Schiff’s persistent stonewalling relating to the Steele dossier. We could dissect the disingenuous campaign around the Nunes counter-memo, in which Schiff first falsely claimed Republican procedural unfairness around consideration of the memo when it was subjected to the same process as the Nunes memo; he then cried suppression when the counter memo’s reviewers took the time to redact the sensitive and/or classified information that Schiff and his fellow HIPSCI Democrats had cynically intentionally included, threatening national security for political purposes after claiming Republicans would do the same with their memo. Lastly, we could limn the litany of instances of hypocrisy, deception and sins of omission and commission, as The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway has chronicled. To recognize these points would only further call into question Rep. Schiff’s credibility on Russia and Trump.
Leave all that aside.
Let us ask the seminal question once again: Where is the collusion Schiff?