As the Russia investigation progresses, this week President Trump and his handlers seemed to shift their public message from "No collusion!" to "collusion is not a crime." Rudy Giuliani made the assertion on Fox News on Monday, and Trump himself tweeted about it on Tuesday: "Collusion is not a crime, but that doesn’t matter because there was No Collusion." But wait, is collusion a crime, or are they telling the truth?
Is collusion a crime?
So, is collusion a crime? Early on, the word "collusion" was adopted by the media and the public as shorthand for the entire Russia investigation. It's true that there is no federal statute called "collusion." But this is a matter of semantics: Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating President Trump, his associates and Russians for several offenses that could have been committed in collusion. Several Russian nationals and companies have already been charged with crimes. Namely: Conspiracy to defraud the United States.
"Collusion is a crime, so people need to stop saying [that it isn't]," said Mimi Rocha, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, on MSNBC Monday. "We just call it a different name under the federal statutes. It's just not called collusion; it's called conspiracy."
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If Trump, his associates or members of the Trump campaign aided or abetted a foreign government's attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election, the charge of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. could be brought against them as well. The Justice Department has already indicted 13 members of Russia's spy service and the Kremlin-linked troll farm the Internet Research Agency under that charge, for hacking into the Democratic National Committee and leaking their emails, and spreading pro-Trump, anti-Clinton propaganda over social media.
Mueller is also investigating election fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud and hacking – all of which are crimes. Trump is also under investigation for obstruction of justice in firing FBI head James Comey.
Other potential crimes that could be uncovered by the Russia investigation include perjury, making false statements to the FBI, witness tampering, money laundering, tax evasion, computer crimes, espionage, theft, identity theft, extortion and RICO violations.
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is on trial for fraud, money laundering and tax evasion. Former Manafort associate Rick Gates is cooperating with the government after being charged with similar crimes. Former Trump national-security adviser Mike Flynn and former Trump campaign aide George Papadaplous have pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI. So has Gates attorney Alex van der Zwaan, who is currently serving a prison term.