From Mother Jones
The scandal may not be a crime. It's a betrayal.
On Sunday afternoon Attorney General William Barr sent a letter to Congress noting that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation "did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities." The message also noted that Mueller could not exonerate President Donald Trump of obstruction of justice, but that Barr himself had decided that the evidence Mueller developed was "insufficient to establish" that Trump had obstructed justice. Trump proclaimed it was "complete and total exoneration." And Trump champions popped the cork and declared case closed, nothing to see, end of story, no need for further investigation, Trump did no wrong.
Well, that is fake news.
Barr's note is clear that Mueller did not uncover evidence Trump and his gang were in direct cahoots with Russia's covert operation to interfere with the US election and boost Trump's odds. But the hyper-focus on this sort of collusion -- as if Trump instructed Russian hackers on how to penetrate the computer network of the Democratic National Committee -- has always diverted attention from a basic and important element of the scandal that was proven long before Mueller drafted his final report: Trump and his lieutenants interacted with Russia while Putin was attacking the 2016 election and provided encouraging signals to the Kremlin as it sought to subvert American democracy. They aided and abetted Moscow's attempt to cover up its assault on the United States (which aimed to help Trump win the White House). And they lied about all this.
And, yes, there were instances of collusion -- not on the specifics of the attack, but secret scheming between Trump-world and Russia.
None of the evidence underlying this is in dispute. No matter what Mueller report contains, a harsh verdict remains: Trump and his gang betrayed the United States in the greatest scandal in American history.
Let's start with Trump. Shortly after he leaped into the 2016 contest, Trump began pursuing a grand project in Moscow: a sky-high tower bearing his name. It could reap him hundreds of millions of dollars. His fixer, Michael Cohen, was the Trump Organization's point man in the negotiations.
Trump signed a letter of intent, and the talks went on for months through the fall of 2015 and the first half of 2016. At one point, Cohen spoke to an official in Putin's office, seeking help for the venture. And throughout this period, Trump the candidate, when asked for his opinions on Russia and Putin, issued curiously positive remarks about the thuggish and autocratic Russian leader.
Trump also claimed throughout the campaign that he had nothing to do with Russiano business there, nothing. And when he was asked whether he knew Felix Sater, a wheeling-dealing developer and one-time felon who was the middleman for the Moscow project negotiations, Trump claimed he was "not that familiar with him."
That was a lie.
The Moscow deal did fizzle at some point, but Trump had engaged in the most significant conflict of interest in modern American politics. He was making positive statements about Putin on the campaign trail, at the same time he needed support from the Russian government for his project. Yet he hid this conflict from American voters and lied to keep it secret. (After the election, Cohen lied to Congress about this project to protect Trump, and that's one reason Cohen is soon heading to prison.)
It's deplorable that a presidential candidate would double-deal in this manner and deceive the public -- insisting he was an America First candidate, while pursuing a secret agenda overseas to enrich himself. But Trump's duplicity also compromised him.
Putin and the Russians obviously knew about this deal Trump was hiding from American voters. So at any time they could reveal it and expose Trump's mendacity. He willingly placed himself at the mercy of a foreign adversary -- as it was preparing a covert operation to corrupt an American election. And Trump literally and secretly signaled to the Kremlin -- which was still facing harsh economic sanctions for Putin's intervention in Ukraine -- that he wanted to do business with it. Trump was betraying the public trust before being elected.The Trump Tower Meeting
The betrayal continued after Trump became the de facto presidential nominee of the Republican Party. On June 9, 2016, Trump's three most senior advisers -- Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner -- met with a Russian emissary in the Trump Tower in New York City. They had been informed that she would deliver them dirt on Hillary Clinton and that this was part of a secret Kremlin initiative to assist the Trump campaign.