Seth Abramson’s Playboy interview just landed online. Here are some of the sections most directly focused on proving collusion.
With that in mind, I want you to prove collusion to me.
As the left-brained gonzo that I am, the first thing we have to determine is what our frame of reference is. There’s a certain amount of information about collusion that would be found compelling in a movie called Proof of Collusion. There’s information that would hold water in court. There’s information that might make a corporate journalist say, “We now have proof of collusion.” Then there’s a certain amount of evidence that would cause a partisan to change their perspective on the collusion question and say, “Hey, I was wrong: I thought there was collusion, and there isn’t,” or “I said there was no collusion, and in fact there is.” If we put partisanship aside, I believe there are several dozen incidents in the Trump-Russia timeline that should be received as collusion across any of those paradigms. One example is Donald Trump sitting down with his National Security Advisory Committee on March 31, 2016. One of his advisors, George Papadopoulos, said to the assembled group, roughly, that he had secretly been in contact with agents of the Kremlin and that he had been tasked by these Kremlin agents to act as an intermediary in setting up a secret summit between Trump and the president of Russia that no one will know happened, and that the Kremlin had cleared him to do the scheduling and the logistics and the communication between the two parties to ensure that the two are able to discuss geopolitical complications in American foreign policy without anyone knowing about that conversation.
What gives you the confidence to say this is something that really happened?
When The Washington Post first reported what George Papadopoulos claimed to have communicated to Trump, they phrased it as Papadopoulos revealing himself “as an intermediary for the Russian government.” Adding to that, I believe there’s the legal language, which is that if you are acting as a Kremlin intermediary who has been specially tasked by the Kremlin to communicate a message and also to schedule a secret summit, you are, legally speaking, an agent of the Kremlin. So let’s apply that to the courtroom paradigm: George Papadopoulos, legally speaking, was acting as a special agent for the Kremlin in that situation. He informed an entire room of men working on Trump’s campaign that he was a Kremlin agent for that special purpose. Their response to that was not to contact the FBI, not to fire him, not to tell him, “Don’t do this,” but in fact to promote him to the speech-writing team for Donald Trump’s first foreign policy speech. At that point, that speech was four weeks away. Across any of the paradigms I mentioned — political partisanship, the courtroom, journalism, Hollywood — that’s collusion.
I’ll give another example. On April 26, 2016, Joseph Mifsud tells Papadopoulos that the Kremlin has stolen Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. According to Trump aide John Mashburn, who testified before Congress, Papadopoulos did, in fact, communicate that information to the campaign. Well, great. The moment he communicates that information, it should have been clear to everyone in the Trump campaign, from Donald Trump all the way down, that if there’s one thing you now cannot legally do under any circumstances it’s take any action to try to acquire Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, because you’ve been told that they were stolen. So now you know that cybercrimes are being committed against the United States. You know that any such materials are stolen property. You know that they have value, which is why the Kremlin stole them. If you solicit them or take them, that’s an illegal campaign donation from a foreign national — a thing of in-kind value.
What happens is the moment Papadopoulos communicates that information to the Trump campaign, it sets off a firestorm of activity, from top to bottom, trying to get that stolen material. Papadopoulos didn’t steal any material, and while he perhaps should have registered as a foreign agent, his decision to communicate what someone had told him to someone else is not a crime. But it should have smacked the conscience and sense of legal responsibility of everyone on the Trump campaign. They should have changed their behavior from that moment onward. In fact, I believe it did nothing but excite their desire to act in a criminal fashion as much as possible throughout the entire summer of 2016.
A much more important question is how, when Papadopoulos ends up on the speech-editing team for Trump’s first foreign policy address, the speech he’s editing has effectively, as I see it, been written by a lobbyist for the Kremlin-controlled gas company Gazprom and Dimitri Simes, president and chief executive officer of the Center for the National Interest, who has been described as friendly with Vladimir Putin. I believe that is another instance of, on its face, collusion. You do not have your foreign policy secretly written and edited by Kremlin agents and then represent your foreign policy as merely the product of your own American values and belief in the best interest of America when you know that what you expressed were the Kremlin’s values and the Kremlin’s agenda. That is prima facie collusion in the broad sense of that term.
They then changed the platform in a way that would benefit the Kremlin. Gordon immediately begins lying and saying that he had no role whatsoever. Paul Manafort says the same. Donald Trump says, “I had no role in that. I was not involved,” even as alleged Kremlin spy Konstantin Kilimnik is running around Europe — and we know he’s a former associate of Paul Manafort’s — saying he made this change happen through his secret contacts with the Trump campaign.
Let’s stick with that four-week period. We don’t just have the March 31 meeting and the fact that Papadopoulos contributed to the first foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel on April 27, 2016. Let’s stick with the same sort of fact pattern and find a third instance of collusion. According to J.D. Gordon, who was the number two man on Trump’s National Security Advisory Committee, the Republican National Committee platform on the subject of Ukraine was changed in a way that would benefit the Kremlin when the convention came around in July 2016. Gordon told the Republican delegates with whom he was arguing about the platform that he was on the phone with Trump Tower, speaking with Donald Trump directly.
And more recently it has come out that Manafort seems to have shared campaign data with Kilimnik, who was known as Manafort’s “Russian brain.”
Exactly. So we now know that there was an ongoing exchange of information and even negotiations between Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik about how much value monetarily Manafort was producing for Kilimnik and — through Kilimnik — to Oleg Deripaska, the aluminum magnate who has said, “I don’t separate myself from the state.” Deripaska does not see any daylight between himself and Vladimir Putin, so why should we?
Okay, we already have plenty of grassy knolls and book depositories to talk about, but I’d say the Trump Tower meeting between Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and others, in June 2016, is maybe chief among them. Have I missed anything between April and — —
Oh yes. Because by the time we even get to March 31, 2016, I count the number of acts of collusion for which Trump and the Trump campaign are responsible as in the double digits.
Let’s be very clear that throughout the presidential campaign, from the moment Donald Trump announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015, he was negotiating two multibillion-dollar Trump Tower Moscow deals — not just with Kremlin agents but directly with the Kremlin itself. That would be the Trump-Agalarov deal and the Trump-Rozov deal. Multibillion dollar. Trump was hiding this deal even from top executives in the Trump Organization. He lied about it to American voters by saying he had no association at all with the Kremlin or with Russian nationals. In so doing, in lying to Trump Organization executives, in lying to the voters, he was, every single time he lied — which was virtually daily — creating blackmail material for the Kremlin.
This also creates the possibility of Trump’s being charged with bribery if he was considering his businesses first when creating Russia policy. Those are not just acts of collusion as to each of those Trump Tower deals — the 2013 Trump-Agalarov deal [which Trump was in Moscow negotiating during the period described in the Steele dossier] and the 2015 Trump-Rozov deal; those are entire courses of conduct that take months to unfold and have numerous sub-events within them that are collusion.