The Don­ald Trump Jr. emails def­i­nitely show col­lu­sion. But col­lu­sion in what?

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE - By An­drew C. Mccarthy

ol­lu­sion” is a hope­lessly vague term. Alas, the word has driven the cov­er­age and the de­bate about pos­si­ble co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the Trump cam­paign and Vladimir Putin’s regime. But it is a term nigh use­less to in­ves­ti­ga­tors, who must think in terms of con­spir­acy. Col­lu­sion can in­volve any kind of con­certed ac­tiv­ity, in­no­cent or oth­er­wise. Con­spir­acy is an agree­ment to com­mit a con­crete vi­o­la­tion of law.

Thus has the col­lu­sion ques­tion al­ways been two ques­tions: First, was there any? Se­cond, if so, col­lu­sion in what?

The first ques­tion, to my mind, is no longer open to cred­i­ble dis­pute. There plainly was col­lu­sion be­tween the Trump cam­paign and the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment. This is firmly es­tab­lished by emails ex­changed in June 2016 be­tween Don­ald Trump Jr. and an in­ter­me­di­ary act­ing on be­half of Rus­sian real es­tate mag­nate Aras Agalarov. A Putin crony, Agalarov is also a busi­ness part­ner of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

The emails re­port that Agalarov had met with Rus­sia’s chief gov­ern­ment pros­e­cu­tor and that the lat­ter of­fered to pro­vide “of­fi­cial doc­u­ments and in­for­ma­tion that would in­crim­i­nate Hil­lary and her deal­ings with Rus­sia.” The in­ter­me­di­ary, Rob Gold­stone (a pub­li­cist for Agalarov’s pop­star son, Emin), told Trump Jr. that the in­for­ma­tion “would be very use­ful to your fa­ther” and — more sig­nif­i­cant — that it was “part of Rus­sia and its gov­ern­ment’s sup­port for Mr. Trump.”

In a sub­se­quent email, Gold­stone told Trump Jr. that Emin Agalarov wanted Trump Jr. to meet with a “Rus­sian gov­ern­ment at­tor­ney” who would be fly­ing in from Moscow. Trump Jr. agreed to the meet­ing and elab­o­rated that it would in­clude then-cam­paign man­ager Paul Manafort as well as Jared Kush­ner, Trump Jr.’s brother-in-law.

The meet­ing took place at Trump Tower. The Rus­sian at­tor­ney, whom Gold­stone ac­com­pa­nied, was Natalia Ve­sel­nit­skaya. She is a for­mer regime pros­e­cu­tor who now rep­re­sents Putin cronies and lob­bies the U.S. gov­ern­ment to re­peal the Mag­nit­sky Act, a hu­man rights pro­vi­sion en­acted to pun­ish Rus­sia for tor­tur­ing and killing a whistle­blower. The act’s un­do­ing is known to be a Putin pri­or­ity.

Con­se­quently, we now have solid doc­u­men­tary ev­i­dence that the Trump cam­paign, fully aware that Putin’s regime wanted to help Trump and dam­age Clin­ton, ex­pressed en­thu­si­asm and granted a meet­ing to a lawyer sen­si­bly un­der­stood to be an emis­sary of the regime. Top Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials at­tended the meet­ing with the ex­pec­ta­tion that they would re­ceive in­for­ma­tion that could be ex­ploited against Clin­ton.

That is col­lu­sion — con­certed ac­tiv­ity to­ward a com­mon pur­pose. We can ar­gue about whether the col­lu­sion amounted to any­thing, in this in­trigu­ing in­stance or over time. That is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and de­servedly so. To my mind, though, it is no longer cred­i­ble to claim there is no ev­i­dence of a col­lu­sive re­la­tion­ship. It is there in black and white.

Now we are on to the real ques­tion: Col­lu­sion in what? There are two as­pects to this ques­tion: le­gal and po­lit­i­cal.

As a mat­ter of law, mere col­lu­sion is not a crime. As noted above, it must rise to a pur­pose­ful agree­ment to carry out a sub­stan­tive vi­o­la­tion of law. It is not a crime to col­lude with a for­eign gov­ern­ment, even a hos­tile one, if the point is to ac­cept in­for­ma­tion in the na­ture of op­po­si­tion re­search. The sug­ges­tion that it might vi­o­late cam­paign law to ac­cept in­for­ma­tion — as a “thing of value” — would raise sig­nif­i­cant con­sti­tu­tional ques­tions while triv­i­al­iz­ing the con­duct, which is egre­gious be­cause of the na­ture of the re­la­tion­ship, not the money value of the in­for­ma­tion. To rise to the level of con­spir­acy, there would need to be proof, for ex­am­ple, that (a) vi­o­la­tions of U.S. law were or­ches­trated by the Rus­sian regime, and (b) Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials knew about them and were com­plicit in their com­mis­sion.

At the mo­ment, there is no such ev­i­dence. We will have to see what the in­ves­ti­ga­tion yields.

That, how­ever, is not the end of the mat­ter. The framers in­cluded im­peach­ment in the Con­sti­tu­tion in or­der to ad­dress vi­o­la­tions not just of law but also of the pub­lic trust — trans­gres­sions in the na­ture of abuse of power or that oth­er­wise demon­strate un­fit­ness for of­fice. Among the most pro­found con­cerns of our Con­sti­tu­tion’s au­thors was the specter of a pres­i­dent who aligned with a for­eign power covertly and against U.S. in­ter­ests.

Of course, a po­lit­i­cal rem­edy is sub­ject to po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions. On the mat­ter of un­sa­vory re­la­tions with Rus­sia (and other regimes, for that mat­ter), we have got­ten in the habit of tol­er­at­ing much that ought not be tol­er­ated, from politi­cians of both par­ties. Trump’s re­la­tion­ship with Putin’s regime should not be ex­am­ined in a vac­uum. But that said, it must be ex­am­ined.

An­drew C. Mccarthy is a for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor and a con­tribut­ing edi­tor at Na­tional Review.

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