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The Mueller report could not be more clear on the point of collusion if it were written in all 48-point headlines and ended every sentence with an exclamation report.

In his March 24 letter to Congress, Attorney General William Barr gave Donald Trump a blanket waiver of any charges of conspiracy. In doing so, he cited a single sentence fragment from the Mueller report. Barr not only leaned heavily on this partial sentence in his report to Congress, but he also repeated it five times in his pre-report press conference. Here’s how those words looked when cited by Barr.

The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As the report states: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

But context is everything. Here’s what the very first page of the Mueller report actually says (bolding added).

The investigation identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and the Campaign expected it would benefit from information stolen and released by the Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that member of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

Numerous links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Why was there “no collusion”? Because the Mueller report explicitly says they didn’t look for collusion.

The Mueller report makes it clear that, as many people have said all along, “collusion” is neither a legal term nor a charge that could be investigated. Instead, it explicitly states “the Office’s focus in analyzing questions of joint criminal liability was on conspiracy as defined in federal law.”

Even on the term “cooperated,” the fragment that Barr used didn’t mean that term in the way most people would understand it, but only in the sense of an actual agreement between two parties to work together in some formal way.

That requires more than the two parties taking actions that were informed by or responsive to to the other’s actions and interests.

Mueller Report -- fragment on collusion
Mueller report description of “collusion” vs “conspiracy” and “cooperation.”

The Mueller report explicitly says that Trump’s team had multiple contacts with Russia, and that those contacts included the exchange of information with expectations that it would help the campaign. It only failed to meet the level of criminal conspiracy because there appears to have been no formal agreement of cooperation.

That’s worlds apart—and words apart—from the way Barr used that sentence.

That’s collusion. Collusion. And, dammit, collusion. Also cooperation, in the sense that everyone else uses it. This report is damning for Trump, damning for his campaign, and utterly damning for Barr.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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