The Corner

Law & the Courts

Why Argue That ‘Collusion with Russia’ Isn’t a Crime?

So far there is no evidence of “collusion” between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. And if they ever find any, I suspect the culpability will land at the feet of politically expendable characters such as Roger Stone or Paul Manafort and not the president.

To date, the best argument the Russia-obsessed have is Donald Trump’s own words and actions: His obsession with the unfairness of the investigation, his refusal to acknowledge that Russia meddled in our election (at least until his latest tweets on the subject), and his odd reluctance to speak ill of Vladimir Putin and his desire to be more chummy with the dictator.

None of that, however, is proof of anything other than the well-documented habit of the president to say things that don’t help him.

But there’s a new argument coming down the pike these days that I find particularly odd. A number of people are starting to make the case that even if Trump did collude with the Russian government, that wouldn’t be a crime. My friend Brit Hume made that case on Fox News Sunday. From a Newsweek story:

“Can anybody identify the crime? Collusion, while it would be obviously alarming and highly inappropriate for the Trump campaign, of which there is no evidence by the way, of colluding with the Russians,” said Hume, “It’s not a crime.”

Last week on his radio show, Sean Hannity made a similar argument:

“They might say as a Trump campaign representative, ‘wow you have that? Tell the American people the truth. Let them see it themselves, release it.’ Is that a crime, to say ‘release it’? To show the truth? To show damaging information?”

Now, the Newsweek article asks a bunch of legal experts who think this is wrong: Colluding with Russia could run afoul of several laws. Maybe those experts are wrong. I honestly don’t know, but it’d hardly shock me if Newsweek went quote-shopping for the story.

Still, I think this argument is a dead-end. One could also just say, as many have, that it doesn’t matter because the Department of Justice as a rule won’t indict a sitting president. The fact remains that if Donald Trump did actually work with the Russians — again, there’s no evidence that he did — it would be an enormous calamity for his presidency. It would certainly fall under the entirely elastic and political definition of impeachable offenses — at least if the Democrats take over Congress.

Moreover, I don’t see how this argument helps the Trump White House. “Even if I did it . . . ” is never a strong defense and it comes across as a grudging confession of wrongdoing.

We know the president often takes his cues from Fox News and supportive pundits elsewhere. Mainstreaming the argument that it’d be no big deal if Trump conspired, even after the fact, with the Russians over the hacking of the DNC server etc. amounts to giving the president terrible political advice.

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