Mellman: Collusion

Mellman: Collusion
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I’m in no position to judge the legal merits of whatever Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE says today, but the facts uncovered by the special counsel are clear: President TrumpDonald John TrumpFacebook releases audit on conservative bias claims Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' Recessions happen when presidents overlook key problems MORE and his campaign colluded with Russia.

Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortTrial of ex-Obama White House counsel suddenly postponed Top Mueller probe prosecutor to join Georgetown Law as lecturer DOJ releases notes from official Bruce Ohr's Russia probe interviews MORE, in his capacity as campaign chairman and chief strategist, ordered Deputy Campaign Manager Richard Gates to share internal polling with a Russian who was widely believed by Manafort associates, as well as by the FBI, to be connected to Russian intelligence.

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Internal polling data is highly confidential and a very valuable strategic work product. Typically, campaigns are loath to share much, if any, of it with the press. They labor assiduously to make sure opponents don’t see it.

Even big donors are exposed only to a carefully curated version, and almost never get a detailed document.

The only people to whom campaigns give detailed internal polling data are their most important, and most trusted, allies.

At one point, Manafort gave 70 pages worth to his Russian contact.

It wasn’t a singular occurrence. Mueller’s report notes, “Gates stated that, in accordance with Manafort’s instructions he periodically sent [his Russian contact] polling data via WhatsApp; Gates then deleted the communication on a daily basis.”

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Gates began providing this vital campaign intelligence to the Russians in April or early May of 2016.

Mueller’s indictment of Russia’s Internet Research Agency alleges that in April, Russian agents began “to produce, purchase, and post advertisements on U.S. social media and other online sites expressly advocating for the election of then candidate Donald Trump and expressly opposing Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe exhaustion of Democrats' anti-Trump delusions Poll: Trump trails three Democrats by 10 points in Colorado Soft levels of support mark this year's Democratic primary MORE.”

So, around the time they got the poll data, the Russians started making and placing ads designed to influence the election outcome in favor of Trump.

Shortly thereafter, in June, the Russians “organized and coordinated political rallies in the United States,” adding another political tool to their belts.

For months, TV lawyers, and even a few real ones, have been debating whether “collusion” is a crime.

For all the ferocious argument, it’s not really relevant. Federal law makes it illegal for campaigns to “coordinate” with any outside entity, domestic or foreign.

Congress mandated that campaign finance regulations “shall not require agreement or formal collaboration to establish coordination.”

If the Russians used the polling data to make decisions about advertising or rallies, the Trump campaign illegally coordinated with them under the law.

And therein may lie a legal rub. We don’t know for certain whether the Russian agents who carried out the pro-Trump campaign had access to the polling data or insights from it.

But while it may not be sufficient for a criminal conviction, there is certainly substantial evidence of criminal coordination.

In another instance, this ambiguity is completely absent.

On July 27, Trump directly asked Russia for help: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

While he now claims it was a joke, shortly after the fact, MSNBC’s Katy Tur asked him if the remarks gave him any pause. He didn’t say they were a joke then, but rather treated them quite seriously, taking the opportunity to reiterate the request: “They probably have them. I’d like to have them released … it gives me no pause.”

More importantly, the Russians did not treat it as a joke. According to Mueller, “Within approximately five hours of Trump’s statement [Russian military intelligence] targeted for the first time Clinton’s personal office. After candidate Trump’s remarks, Unit 26165 created and sent malicious links targeting 15 email accounts at the domain [redacted] including an email account belonging to Clinton aide [redacted].”

Asking for campaign help from foreigners is a crime. President Trump committed that crime in full view of the world.

On a factual level, there’s simply no way around it. Mueller’s report demonstrates illegal coordination and collusion.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for more than 20 years and as president of the American Association of Political Consultants.