Saturday, March 30, 2019

Andrew McCarthy: No Winners In The 'Collusion' Wars

This is absolutely worth a read:
   Obviously, Attorney General William Barr’s letter outlining Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report has not put an end to our confusion. There are still two camps relying on the ambiguity of the word collusion to argue their opposing positions, indignant that anyone could disagree.
   To repeat what we’ve stressed with only middling success for a couple of years: Collusion has two meanings. There is the general, overarching meaning: Collusion always denotes concerted activity, though not of any particular kind — it can be good or bad, benign or sinister, admirable or unsavory. Then there is what, in the context of a criminal investigation, is a very specific meaning: collusion as criminal conspiracy — an agreement between two or more people to engage in conduct that violates a criminal law (which, in the law’s eyes, makes the agreement just as criminal as the crime that is the agreement’s objective).
   It is this second, narrow sense that the special counsel is talking about when he reports finding no collusion. Indeed, Mueller (as reflected in the attorney general’s letter) tries to avoid the confusion by not invoking “collusion”; he discusses whether the president or his campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia.
   In addition, he undertakes to clarify that, by “coordinated,” he means an “agreement — tacit or express — between the Trump campaign and the Russian government on election interference.” To be sure, this clarification itself invites some confusion because “election interference” is yet another ambiguous term. As we’ve just pointed out, a conspiracy is an agreement to commit a crime. There is no crime called “interference.” The word just means to interrupt, influence, or somehow affect some activity. As with “collusion,” some “interference” is legal and some is criminal.
   Nevertheless, Mueller is unmistakably referring to the criminal kind of interference. Barr’s letter informs us that when the special counsel speaks of Russia’s “election interference,” he is referring to two schemes: the first to conduct “disinformation and social media operations”; and the second to conduct “computer hacking operations.” Mueller found that the objectives of both of these schemes violated federal criminal law. This finding is more convincing with respect to hacking, an obvious crime, than it is with respect to the propaganda activities — which the special counsel alleged to be a “conspiracy to defraud the United States” by impairing the ability of government agencies (the Federal Election Commission, the Justice Department, and the State Department) to administer federal regulations relating to “foreign involvement in certain domestic activities.”
   It is not my purpose to quibble over this theory of fraud. (As explained before, I am not a fan — enough said.) I simply mean to clarify what Mueller found. When he concluded that the Trump campaign did not commit the crime of conspiracy, all he meant was that the campaign was not complicit in Russia’s hacking or its social-media propaganda operation. Period.
  In their giddiness this week, Trump advocates have inflated this finding into a Mueller pronouncement that “there was no collusion with Russia.” That is not what he said. Mueller did not conclude that, apart from the two criminal schemes, Russia refrained from all activities that could influence an election. And he did not say that Trump-campaign officials had no meaningful associations and engaged in no concerted activity with operatives of the Kremlin.


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