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The Russian connection

The Russian connection
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Donald Trump, and those who apparently see lying on his behalf as a sacred duty, are desperate to demonstrate:

• That his campaign did not “collude” with Russia

• That Americans don’t care about Russia’s efforts to influence our election

• That the Russians had no impact on the outcome of our election

The first of these is largely irrelevant, the second is demonstrably false and the third can never be determined.

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It is abundantly clear, both from Monday’s indictments and earlier admissions by Trump family members, that the campaign solicited assistance from Russia, in apparent violation of campaign finance laws.

“Collusion,” is wholly irrelevant.

Collusion has no legal meaning in this context. The dictionary definition of the word is, “secret agreement or cooperation …”

The president was not secret at all. In fact, he was quite public in seeking Russian help. In July 2016, Trump made a specific request: “Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

The fact that the president solicited help from the Russians likely violates the law. Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian emissary and George Papadopoulos’s efforts to arrange similar meetings almost surely violate our campaign finance laws.

An email to Trump Jr. explained, “The Crown prosecutor of Russia … offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official … information that would incriminate Hillary … and be very useful to your father. This is … part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

The law states it is “unlawful for a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation … from a foreign national.”

And what is a “donation,” according to the law? A “thing of value.”

Is opposition research a thing of value? You bet. Campaigns pay real money for it all the time. Trump Jr. expected to receive something of value from the Russians. Would the emails President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns Corker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE asked the Russians for be a thing of value? Certainly.

This may not be the most serious crime with which Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and others could be charged, but it seems an easy case to prove.

The demonstrably false administration claim is that no one cares.

Even before the latest indictments were announced, a Fox News poll last month found 53 percent saying it was at least “very important” for the investigations of Russian interference in the election to continue.  Sixty-nine percent labeled the investigations at least “somewhat important.”

Most people do care — and care a good deal.

Finally, there is the unanswerable question—did Russian interference affect the election’s outcome?

Trump is so obsessed with this that his CIA director, Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Trump asks Turkey for evidence on missing journalist | Key Dem calls for international probe | Five things to know about 'MBS' | Air Force struggles to determine cost of hurricane damage to F-22 jets GOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Washington Post to publish special Opinion page with new Khashoggi column MORE, lied about it, telling an audience the “intelligence community’s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election.”

That is not at all what they concluded. In fact, the report makes clear the intelligence community did “not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Had they done so, they would have concluded that it’s impossible to know. We cannot rerun the election without over 125 million Americans being exposed to 80,000 Russian Facebook posts, 3,000 Facebook ads, and 288 million views of Russian tweets.

Was that enough to change the votes of fewer Americans than fit in the South Williamsport, Pa., stadium that hosts the Little League World Series —and therefore the outcome?

Venturing far outside his area of expertise, Trump’s Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told an interviewer, “I don’t think they’d [Americans] be influenced by ads posted by foreign governments.”

Unfortunately, Vladimir Putin was not subject to stand-by-your-ad rules. Viewers had no way of knowing they were seeing a Russian post.

And that’s part of the reason we will never know whether Putin elected a president.

Mellman is President of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. Senators, 12 Governors and dozens of House Members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic Leaders for over 20 years and as President of the American Association of Political Consultants.