For Trump critics, term ‘collusion’ packs a punch
Lawfare Institute and Brookings Institution, the language dispute broke wide open in a podcast by Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney in Manhattan fired by Mr. Trump in 2017.
In a late June podcast of “Stay Tuned with Preet,” Mr. Bharara insisted the word is being misused in the 2016 election legal saga.
In everyday, non-legal language, “collusion” means people secretly working together to do something illicit. The legal word for such activity is “conspiracy” — the term Mr. Mueller has used in his indictments against some of Mr. Trump’s associates.
Lawfare’s Victoria Clark delves into what she calls “the intellectual history of the word “collusion” in the context of the Russian election meddling story” saying legal minds are “intrigued by how the president can simply tweet ‘NO COLLUSION!’ to convey a huge amount of meaning to his supporters and opponents alike.”
Ms. Clark’s research points to usage of collusion dating back to July 22, 2016, — the day WikiLeaks released more than 19,000 emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee.
Two days later, she notes, Hillary Clinton’s then-campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CNN that, according to “‘experts,’ Russian state actors had stolen the emails from the DNC and were releasing them through WikiLeaks ‘for the purpose of actually helping Donald Trump.’”
While Mr. Mook did not specifically use the word “collusion,” multiple press accounts of his comments did, she explains. It then spread quickly with the Washington Examiner, ABC News and CNN all using it later that day, July 24.
“From there it was off to the races,” Ms. Clark writes. “Over the next two weeks, the word ‘collusion’ was used hundreds of time.”
Use of the term spiked again in October 2016, when WikiLeaks published more than 50,000 emails from John Podesta, Ms. Clinton’s campaign chairman.
The final months of 2016, her research found, saw more sparing use with the word often defined as alleged “ties” Mr. Trump might have had to Russia or President Vladimir Putin.
The word then seemed to permanently attach itself to the story on Dec. 9, 2016, when The Washington Post first reported that the CIA had concluded Russia intervened in the 2016 election in order to aid the Trump campaign. Again the original story did not use the collusion label, but subsequent publications of the Post’s findings took up the cry.
The word became such a common shorthand for the entire controversy that even Mr. Trump’s supporters — and Mr. Trump himself — embraced the word as a shorthand for the entire collaboration accusation.
Mr. Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., and Trump son-in-law, Jared Kushner were among those who insisted they had never colluded with any Russian agents, and Mr. Trump routinely denounced the collusion charge as the heart of the “witch hunt” Mr. Mueller and the Democrats are pursuing.
Although she considers it a “legal non sequitur,” Ms. Clark said the C-word is likely to stay with us, giving the president’s critics the opportunity to hint at wrongdoing without having to produce a smoking gun, staying away from the more precise — and harder-to-prove — charge of conspiracy.
“The term caught on, I think, because it captured the general suspicion that the campaign was somehow in on the hack or knowingly benefiting from it — while carefully eliding the fact that no tangible evidence had yet emerged tying the Trump campaign to the Kremlin,” Ms. Clark wrote.