The original talking point from Trump World was that the Republican president and his political operation didn't collude with Russia last year during its attack on the American elections. More recently, as the Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal intensified, Team Trump shifted gears, insisting that even if there was collusion, that wouldn't necessarily be illegal.
This morning, Donald Trump decided to switch back to the original argument, saying "no collusion" five times over the course of about a minute.
"Let's put it this way: There is absolutely no collusion. That has been proven. When you look at the committees, whether it's the Senate or the House, everybody -- my worst enemies, they walk out, they say, 'There is no collusion but we'll continue to look.' They're spending millions and millions of dollars.... That was a Democrat hoax..."There is absolutely no collusion.... So now even the Democrats admit there's no collusion. There is no collusion -- that's it."
For what it's worth, I'm not aware of any Democrats who've made any such "admission," though Trump has been known to embrace imaginary ideas as if they were true.
What Democrats are actually saying is largely the opposite. House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) explained over the weekend, for example, "The Russians offered help. The campaign accepted help. The Russians gave help. And the president made full use of that help."
And by some measures, those details -- which have already been thoroughly documented, and are not in dispute -- amount to a fairly obvious case of collusion.
Perhaps the underlying problem in the political debate is that Trump and his critics are speaking past one another. For example, when the president says there was "no collusion," and pretends that everyone accepts the accuracy of his odd claim, it's not at all clear what he thinks that means.
As Brian Beutler recently explained, the case for collusion is already quite plain.
We know that Russian spies approached the Trump campaign offering assistance in the election multiple times. At least twice, Russians dangled the lure of "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, including stolen emails, and both times, Trump campaign officials (George Papadopoulos and Donald Trump, Jr.) expressed interest. Trump, Jr. was particularly enthusiastic about the idea of cooperating with the Russians, and shortly after he welcomed Russian spies to Trump tower for a meeting about "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, he coordinated messaging with Wikileaks, which operated last summer and fall as a cutout for Russian hackers.After repeatedly communicating to Russia (in public and in private) that they welcomed interference in the election, Trump and his aides cast public doubt on whether the saboteurs were Russians at all. When Trump went on to win the election after benefiting from this interference, members of his inner circle, through Michael Flynn, secretly connived with Russia to subvert the countermeasures the American government had undertaken as penalties for Russia's interference.
It's against this backdrop that the sitting president of the United States, just this morning, said that everyone on both sides of the aisle now agrees that there was "no collusion" and that this "has been proven."
And by most sensible standards, that's hopelessly bonkers.
There is, of course, ample room for debate about whether the cooperation between Trump World and Russia reached a criminal level, and whether the frequent and numerous communications between people close to Trump and Russians -- contacts that the president and his team repeatedly lied about for reasons they haven't explained -- were illegal. But for the president to continue to describe the scandal as "a Democrat hoax" is little more than an insult to Americans' intelligence.
What's more, while the available information already points to one of the most serious political scandals in the nation's history, there are still many more details to learn. Members of the congressional intelligence committees have offered tantalizing hints about revelations that will startle the public, and Mueller and his investigators continue to acquire new information all the time, even from people close to the president (see Flynn, Michael).
In other words, we already know there was collusion, and there's reason to believe the case will only grow stronger.
Trump can say "no collusion" as much as he pleases, but like so many of his other ridiculous claims, repetition of a falsehood will not make it true. As Beutler's recent piece concluded, "At this point, to say collusion allegations remain unproven is materially misleading. Collusion has been conclusively proven; we are in the process of learning how extensive it was, and whether, in the course of it, American conspirators committed federal crimes."
Postscript: If you missed this clip from the show last month, it's worth your time.