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Image: Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in support of Doug Mastriano for Governor of Pennsylvania and Mehmet Oz for US Senate at Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Sept. 3, 2022.Ed Jones / AFP - Getty Images

In Russia scandal, Trump is still concocting conspiracy theories

Two years after the Senate Intelligence Committee’s devastating findings in the Russia probe, Trump has a weird new conspiracy theory about what happened.


Donald Trump headlined a rally in Miami on Sunday in support of Sen. Marco Rubio’s re-election campaign, and it led the former president to tell a story about Sen. Richard Burr that struck me as new. This might seem a little convoluted, but hang in there.

“All of a sudden, he went bad. They had him on something like insider trading, and there are those people that think he made a deal to get out of his problem on insider trading by going after Trump — because he changed. But you know what happened? Marco Rubio happened, and Marco Rubio said, ‘Donald Trump did absolutely nothing wrong.’ ... And I won’t forget that.”

The former president added that he’d heard, just one night earlier, that Burr liked him, but he was told that the North Carolinian “had no choice, he had to save his ass.”

The crowd didn’t have much of a reaction to any of this, probably because some of those in attendance had no idea what Trump was talking about.

So let’s take a minute to unpack it.

What the former president was referring to was the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the Russia scandal — specifically Russia’s efforts to interfere in the United States’ 2016 elections. According to Trump’s latest conspiracy theory, Burr, who led the committee for five years, could’ve simply ignored the foreign attack on our political system — evidently, this was Trump’s preferred approach — but “they” forced the GOP senator to pursue the matter, leveraging an insider trading controversy.

None of this makes sense. Burr’s investments were the subject of a serious controversy in early 2020 — a matter that forced the senator to step down as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee — but by that point, the investigation into Russia’s election scheme had already been underway for years. We know the former president’s conspiracy theory isn’t true — there was no “they” forcing Burr’s hand — because the timeline of events doesn’t work.

Nevertheless, when Burr gave up the gavel, Rubio became the new chairman, and a few months later, the committee released its findings. According to the former president’s version of events, it was Rubio who declared at the time, “Donald Trump did absolutely nothing wrong.”

I realize that in politics, two years is practically an eternity, but that’s not even close to describing what actually happened.

In an era of bitter partisanship, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s multi-volume report on the Russia scandal was oddly reassuring. By all appearances, the panel’s Republican and Democratic leaders worked constructively on a comprehensive investigation, which produced important revelations, some of which were even more enlightening than those found in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

By the summer of 2020, the Senate Intelligence Committee — led at the time by Rubio, who’d replaced Burr — confirmed for the public that Vladimir Putin’s government targeted U.S. elections in 2016 for the express purpose of helping elevate Trump to power. The same committee findings also confirmed that Trump’s political operation sought Russian assistance, embraced Russian assistance, capitalized on Russian assistance, lied about Russian assistance, and took steps to obstruct the investigation into Russian assistance.

As we’ve discussed, the Rubio-led panel went on to confirm that during the 2016 campaign, Trump’s campaign chairman was in direct, frequent, and secret communication with a Russian intelligence officer, tasked by the Kremlin with helping run Moscow’s influence operations abroad. Trump’s operation also shared internal information with the Russian operative during its attack on our elections.

The same Senate Intelligence Committee report documented the Trump campaign’s willingness to assist the Russian attack on our election, amplifying the leaks of Democratic materials stolen by Kremlin-linked operatives, and highlighted “coordination” between Team Trump and Wikileaks, which was responsible for releasing the documents stolen by Russia.

The report at one point literally described “direct” connections between “senior Trump Campaign officials and the Russian intelligence services.”

It’s precisely why the committee’s Democratic members examined the evidence and issued a public statement that read in part, “This is what collusion looks like.”

Two years later, Trump is on the campaign trail, telling voters that the findings from the Rubio-led committee — the ones that made Trump and his team look awful — exonerated him.

I don’t doubt that many of the former president’s followers assumed he was telling the truth about all of this. Reality points in the opposite direction.