On Wednesday evening, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani conducted another of his numerous goalpost adjustments — this time by just carrying them right off the field. In an interview at CNN, Giuliani responded to challenges concerning the latest revelations about Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort by saying that he never said something that he’d said dozens, if not hundreds of times.
Giuliani: I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign.
Except, of course, he has. And after claiming that he never said “no collusion,” Giuliani went on to make an even more eye-rolling claim: Neither has Donald Trump.
According to Giuliani, what Trump meant in the sixty tweets in which he’s said “no collusion,” often in all caps and accompanied by one or more exclamation points, wasn’t that there was no collusion by anyone in his campaign. After all, how could Donald Trump hope to know what the rest of the people in his campaign might be on about? Nope. Every time Giuliani, or Trump, or Sarah Sanders, or Kellyanne Conway, or any of the whole toxic ecosystem of Trump surrogates bellowed “no collusion” what they really meant was that Donald Trump, personally, was not conspiring with Russia. Except … that’s still too broad a definition. Because what Giuliani claims was meant by that phrase is much, much narrower than just “Donald Trump wasn’t talking to Russia for fun and or profit.” What he meant was this:
Giuliani: There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you could commit here, conspiring with the Russians to hack the DNC.
That’s not just moving the goalposts downfield. That’s redefining the target of any investigation down to the one crime that Rudy is certain—or at least, fairly certain—that Trump did not commit. As the Washington Post reports, this isn’t the first time that Team Trump has tried to redefine one of Trump’s most frequent statements, but it is the most ridiculous.
The Post story runs through eleven different times that Trump and his crew have attempted to put collusion in a closet. Those incidents go back to the month of the election when Hope Hicks — remember Hope Hicks? — was out there to claim that no one involved in the campaign had any communication with Russia, at all. Sarah Sanders upheld a similar standard three weeks after Trump took office, but by the next month Donald Trump Jr was admitting that some of those people he met just might, might, have been Russian-ish.
It wasn’t until July of 2017, when the news of the Trump Tower meeting in which junior, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with a group of Russian operatives, and junior followed up with a stack of Russia connected communications that anyone on the campaign confessed in public that maybe, just maybe there had been some contacts.
By the end of 2017, Donald Trump personally executed the first major goalpost maneuver.
Trump: There is no collusion, and even if there was, it’s not a crime.
Trump’s attorney followed suit, playing the pedantic game of distinguishing collusion from conspiracy. For the record, everyone is by now aware that the actual crime is conspiracy. Specifically conspiracy against the United States for the purpose of either altering an election or interfering in the investigation of a crime. But here’s the way it was laid out for Robert Mueller in his instructions at the start of the special counsel appointment.
The Special Counsel is authorized to conduct the investigation … of any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.
Coordination, Collusion. Conspiracy. They all make the synonym list over at Roget’s. So does complicity and connivance. In making the step to redefine “no collusion” as “sure, there were meetings, but no criminal conspiracy” is little more than giving a wink to all those who think it’s pretty cool that Trump used the Russians to pwn those libruls, while whistling past the idea of indictment.
But the trip down the redefinition slide continued in 2018. Over the summer, Giuliani performed his ice-breaker role by allowing that there could have been meetings. There could even have been an exchange of information. But if the Trump campaign got a basket of goodies from Russia “it wasn’t used.” When news leaked that there had been other meetings, Trump’s legal team let slip hints that the Trump campaign knew about Russia’s social media efforts but “weren’t interested” in them.
By July, Giuliani was reduced to saying that there was no collusion because Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin didn’t really know each other, and besides, Trump was not physically present at the Trump Tower meeting. So … no collusion. At that point, Rudy had already walked the ball back to the point where it was clear other members of the Trump campaign had not just met, but cooperated with Russia. All that “no collusion” meant by that point was only Trump had not personally taken part in the planning meetings.
And in this more recent step, Giuliani has narrowed the concept of collusion down to an atomically small unit. It’s not collusion because Donald Trump didn’t actually write the email that Russia used to fish for documents at the DNC. It might as well be no collusion because Trump isn’t seven feet tall (or maybe he is if he finds the right doctor).
Members of the Trump campaign met with Russian operatives. That includes traveling overseas to conduct these meetings in secret. They were aware of Russia’s social media push — aware enough that they knew that polling data collected by the Trump campaign would be of value to Russia. Based on the latest documents concerning Paul Manafort, it appears that relationship might have even been interactive, with Russian requests filtering into polls conducted by the Trump campaign’s digital operations. In every way that they could have conspired with Russia, Trump’s campaign was conspiring with Russia. And at the same time, Trump’s company was dealing with the same Russians over real estate deals that stood to make Trump hundreds of millions.
That’s collusion. And cooperation. And a criminal conspiracy.
The only way that Rudy Giuliani’s latest excuses work is to believe that Donald Trump was such an idiot, was so blindly ignorant, so utterly oblivious to what was happening around him that he couldn’t put one and one together, much less one and two. That excuse … might be the only one that most of America might believe.
In the meantime, Donald Trump will continue to shout “no collusion!” because it has no meaning. It never did.