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Commentary

On Russia collusion, Trump is right and George Stephanopoulos is wrong

In an extraordinary interview, President Trump and ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos repeatedly sparred over whether special counsel Robert Mueller had cleared Trump of collusion with Russia. “Are you trying to say now that there was collusion even though he said there was no collusion?” Trump asked Stephanopoulos while riding in his limousine. “He didn’t say that,” Stephanopoulos replied. Later, Trump again asserted, “He said there was no collusion. George, read the report.” Stephanopoulos answered, “He said he explicitly didn’t look at collusion ... He said there was insufficient evidence that said there was a conspiracy. I read every page.”

Trump is right, and Stephanopolous is wrong: Mueller did clear the president of colluding with Russia.

First, Trump is using the word “collusion” because the media repeatedly used it during the investigation. As Mueller points out in his report, “the term has frequently been invoked in public reporting about the investigation” (including, I would add, by Stephanopolous on ABC). There’s a reason for that. “Collusion” is plain English for what most Trump critics alleged: that he worked with Russia to steal the 2016 election.

Mueller declared that since “collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code,” he instead focused on the word “coordination.” “We addressed the factual question whether members of the Trump Campaign ‘coordinat(ed)’ — a term that appears in the appointment order — with Russian election interference activities,” Mueller wrote, adding that “we understood coordination to require an agreement — tacit or express — between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference. We applied the term coordination in that sense when stating in the report that the investigation did not establish that the Trump Campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

So, yes, Trump would be more precise to say that Mueller found that there was “no coordination” rather than “no collusion.” But to any normal viewer without a law degree, the meaning is the same. As Mueller made clear, “In this investigation, the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference.” Trump was 100% correct when he told Stephanopoulos, “There was no crime. There was no Russia collusion. There was no Russia, I’ll put it in your language, conspiracy, which is even better than collusion. You know, the word ‘collusion’ is a softer word than ‘conspiracy.’” No crime, no collusion, no conspiracy — however you want to phrase it, the result is the same: He didn’t do it. Period.

And when Stephanopoulos says that the Mueller report found only that “there was insufficient evidence” of a conspiracy with Russia, he is, knowingly or not, helping the Trump-Russia truthers who exploit the word “insufficient” to continue arguing that the president hasn’t been cleared. They insist — the Mueller report notwithstanding — that it is still possible that Trump was working with the Russians. No, given the scope of Mueller’s investigation, it’s not possible.

The fact is Mueller led a team of 19 lawyers, who were in turn supported by 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants and other professional staff. His team reviewed more than 1.4 million pages of documents provided by the White House and Trump’s campaign and spent countless hours interviewing senior White House officials. As Attorney General William Barr pointed out, they “issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communication records, issued almost 50 orders authorizing use of pen registers, made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence, and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses.” If, after all that, they did not find evidence sufficient to establish that Trump conspired with Russia, then Trump is right to say he has been cleared.

In our democracy, we are considered innocent until proven guilty. If a prosecutor not only fails to prove you guilty, but after a lengthy investigation, determines that he cannot even establish that a crime has been committed, then guess what? You’ve been cleared. Denying this is deeply irresponsible. To suggest otherwise about anyone, including the president, is unfair and goes against American values.

Distributed by The Washington Post Writers Group.

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