House Speaker Paul Ryan said last week that no proof has emerged showing “any collusion between the Trump campaign and President Trump and Russia”, adding that the investigation is “about Russia and what they did and making sure they don’t do it again.”
But as Matthew Yglesias from Vox makes clear, there is ample evidence pointing in the direction of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia – a circumstantial case that not only warrants further investigation but has no plausible explanation apart from actual collusion.
From the moment suspicions surfaced that those in Trump’s orbit – if not Trump himself – could be seeking or accepting assistance from Russian operatives, the president and his staff went straight to denial mode.
Trump was asked about this possibility explicitly during the campaign. And during the campaign and the transition, both he and his team issued at least 20 denials of any contact between his camp and the Russians. And where evidence really enters the picture is that they were lying.
It has become clear over the past two years that numerous people in Trump’s circle had questionable contacts with Russians who had – or claimed to have – connections to Vladimir Putin:
Some of it, including the various escapades of George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, involved relatively peripheral players in Trumpworld, who didn’t have strong pre-campaign ties to Trump or play a post-campaign role in the administration.
But some of it was quite high-level and explicitly about the campaign. Donald Trump Jr., for example, took a meeting with the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank while attending the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Kentucky in May 2016. The meeting was arranged by a US conservative activist named Paul Erickson, who got in touch with senior Trump campaign aide Rick Dearborn to set it up, explicitly as a step toward creating back-channel communications between Russia and the campaign.
And, of course, Trump Jr., along with Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, attended the infamous Trump Tower meeting whose purpose was explicitly described as “part of Russia and its support for Mr Trump” and was said to involve incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.
In total, The Moscow Project counts 13 individuals involved with the Trump campaign or transition who collectively had at least 80 contacts with Russians.
At least 22 high-level campaign officials and Trump advisors were aware of contacts between the Trump team and Russia, including the three successive people who ran Trump’s campaign.
Further, there is the behavior of Trump himself during the campaign and after his election as president.
It might not be illegal to take a pro-Russia stance on policy, but again, it certainly raises the question of why.
Vox notes that Trump’s soft spot for Putin was in plain view throughout 2016: “crimes were committed and Trump openly praised them; he offered pro-Russia policy in exchange for Russian assistance, received the assistance that he sought, and has labored ever since to avoid investigating or punishing Russia’s crimes.”
Here, ultimately, is where Paul Ryan’s argument completely falls apart. The speaker says “there’s no evidence of collusion” but also isn’t willing to go full Trump, denounce the investigation as a fraud, and call for its end. Instead, he says, “this is about Russia and what they did and making sure they don’t do it again.” But Trump has always been clear that he doesn’t think Russia did anything wrong, doesn’t want the full details to become known, doesn’t want anyone punished, and has no particular interest in making sure they don’t do it again. And that, itself, is perhaps the most powerful evidence of collusion.