For months, President Trump repeated his favorite stupid phrase – “No collusion” – like it was a nervous tic. Last week, though, the president lengthened the phrase considerably: “Collusion is not a crime, but that doesn’t matter because there was No Collusion.”
Washington Post reported last weekend that Donald Trump likes this framing, thanks to Rudy Giuliani’s terrible influence.
Trump has told some associates that Giuliani has convinced him Mueller has nothing incriminating about him. “Rudy’s told him the other player is bluffing with a pair of 2’s,” said one Trump adviser. And Trump has latched onto Giuliani’s talking point that “collusion is not a crime,” believing it is catchy and brilliantly simplistic, according to people with knowledge of internal talks.
On ABC News’ “This Week”, Jay Sekulow, who is a member of Donald Trump’s legal defense gang, pushed the lying line with great enthusiasm. “The question is, what law, statute, rule or regulation’s been violated?” Sekulow asked. “Nobody’s pointed to one.”
George Stephanopoulos had to respond with, “Well, they actually have pointed to several including conspiracy to defraud the United States.”
Collusion is a crime in many cases. Like an NBC News’ report explained recently, “There is no statute covering ‘colluding’ with a foreign power, but it is illegal to conspire to violate laws against not only hacking, but foreign participation in elections.”
On MSNBC last week, Ari Melber talked with Daniel Goldman, who is a former federal prosecutor. He explained, “If you were to sit on television every night and every time you talk about this investigation, you would have to say, let’s talk about the investigation into a conspiracy to defraud the United States from impeding the proper functions of the government, people would turn the channel off. ‘Collusion’ is just shorthand for potentially several crimes that are in the federal code.”
Washington Post published a related article the other day by Barry Berke, Dani James, and Norman Eisen, explaining thoroughly that “collusion” is in fact “actually many crimes.”
As seasoned criminal law practitioners, we recognize when the tactic of arguing that facts do not constitute a crime is used. That typically happens only after it becomes clear that the prosecution will be able to prove the conduct at issue occurred. That makes it particularly interesting that the president and his lawyer are now reaching for the “collusion is not a crime” defense, after the reports that Cohen will say Trump knew of the Trump Tower meeting.
At any rate, there can be no question of the legitimate law enforcement interest in investigating the many “collusion” crimes that may have been committed. The American people have a fundamental right to know if the president of the United States worked with Russia to win the election and undermine American democracy. The president and his lawyers’ embrace of the extraordinary defense that such collusion would be entirely lawful raises an obvious question: Why are they so busy defending collusion if there was none?
Donald Trump may find the wording “catchy” and “brilliantly simplistic,” however, if the president believes it’s accurate, he’s gotten some very bad advice.