The Depth of Russian Collusion And Why We Need The Special Counsel

It’s long past time to say it: there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

When Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with representatives of the Russian government on June 9, 2016, they not only were colluding with the Russians, they were likely also breaking the law. This meeting—held with the expressed purpose of receiving damaging information on Hillary Clinton—taken together with what we know about the extensive contacts and interactions between the Trump campaign and the Russians, makes it abundantly clear that there was collusion between the Trump and the Russians. Add in the depth and breadth of ties between Trump and his associates to the Kremlin, as well as all the lying, obstructing and deflecting, and it’s practically staring us in the face.

The proof is not hiding in a shady garage or in classified intelligence halfway across the earth. Trump’s aides have repeatedly concealed that they met with Russians—meetings which were undoubtedly of interest to law enforcement. President Trump has repeatedly sought to undermine and end any investigation into his campaign’s collusion with Russia and, in doing so, likely obstructed justice. The innermost circle of the Trump campaign was eager and willing to get involved. How did we get here?

On January 6, the U.S. Intelligence Community released a report that in effect said there were two campaigns to elect Donald Trump: the Trump campaign and the Russian campaign. For months, it was assumed that these two campaigns worked independently of each other. But almost every week, and sometimes every day, we have learned about more contacts and interactions between these two campaigns.

It is now clear they worked together. To assume there was no collusion also assumes that the Russian campaign could have operated without insider assistance, which assumes deep knowledge of US politics that they just don’t have. It’s not like there is some Russian military operative in Moscow that could, for example, quit his job tomorrow and run a Senate campaign in North Carolina. Russian intelligence needed political guidance to know what and where to strike. American political consultants working abroad—like Paul Manafort—work by, with, and through foreign partners. It seems obvious now the Russians did the same.

The question now is, how deep does it go? According to the US intelligence community, the Russian campaign to elect Donald Trump consisted of the following known activities:

  • Cyber hacking, exfiltration of information, and laundering of that information through intermediaries
  • Complex information warfare consisting of a whole of Kremlin effort to proliferate propaganda and disinformation through Kremlin media outlets—RT and Sputnik—and semicovert online cyber operators, operating out of “troll farms” (for more information, see CAP’s previous report on this topic: “War by Other Means: Russian Active Measures and the Weaponization of Information”)
  • Cyber intrusions into at least 39 state election systems across the country

The Trump campaign’s willingness to cross the line and work with the Russians—as evidenced by the June 9 meeting—raises substantial questions about the potential depth of possible coordination. For Trump, working with the Russians could have turned his rag-tag campaign operation into potentially the most potent political campaign in memory. As Marco Rubio speculated, “Now imagine being able to do [opposition research] with the power of a nation state, illegally acquiring things like e-mails and being able to weaponize by leaking.”

We need to start asking about how deep the collusion went. Here are three key questions the American people deserve answers to, now:

  1. The Russians ran a sophisticated information/disinformation operation. Did they coordinate with or receive assistance from the Trump campaign on messaging, content, or narratives to advance?
  2. The Russians have allegedly provided funding to candidates and extremist parties in other countries as well as used its oligarch network to cultivate an “opaque web of economic and political patronage.” Did the Russians provide financial support to the Trump campaign, which would have been a separate crime?
  3. If the Trump campaign was willing to share the data of its digital operations with the Russians, the Trump campaign could have benefited immensely with their efforts being greatly amplified. Did the Trump campaign, in effect, “paint the targets” on voters, allowing the Russians to come afterward and “carpet bomb” with ads and content?

We know what Russia was capable of. But one question that often gets asked: what’s in all this for Vladimir Putin? The answer: A win-win-win.

First, Putin despised Hillary Clinton for her comments criticizing Russia’s highly fraudulent 2011 elections. He may have figured that it was worth the effort to try and weaken her before her administration even started. As the intelligence community unanimously assessed in January, “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election … to denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”

Second, having Trump on his side in the long term would likely be useful to Putin. In the event of a loss, it was assumed Trump would continue to be a potent media personality – and a thorn in Hillary Clinton’s side.

Finally, Trump had already proven himself willing and able to sow the kind of chaos Putin has been known to orchestrate in Eastern Europe and around the world. Trump advanced Russian messaging by repeatedly defending Putin, supporting a détente with Russia, and altering longstanding Republican party positions on Russia, such as calling into question support for NATO and the European Union.

In short, Putin probably saw a big value-add in Trump. And he’s yet to be proven wrong.

As president, Trump has disclosed top-secret intelligence to the Russian ambassador, questioned the United States’ commitment to NATO allies, slashed the State Department budget, and wound down a US program in Syria that Putin desperately wanted to end. And it’s only been seven months.

There’s just one problem for Putin: Special Counsel Robert Mueller. While we don’t know the full scope of his investigation, what we do know is damning enough to spell big trouble for Trump’s associates – and maybe even Trump himself. That’s why it’s so important that we protect the special counsel investigation, and make clear that we will not tolerate Trump firing Mueller.

We now know the Trump campaign was eager to conspire with Russia’s intelligence operation targeting the 2016 presidential election. And the subsequent lying, covering up, and dissembling—in conjunction with actual encouragement of Russia’s efforts—provides further evidence that President Trump and members of his campaign, transition team, and administration are guilty of conspiring with Russia.

Knowing all of this, it’s clear: this is the biggest political scandal in American history.