Wait, collusion to do what exactly?
August 3, 2017 10:11 AM   Subscribe

I've lost the plot with respect to Russian collusion. The campaign feels like it was approximately 52 years ago and I never got a chance to catch up on everything. So I know the current status is that every WH employee and their wives ate dinner with Vlad every night from January to November last year [fake, sarcasm], but I don't know what they actually colluded to do. And what did the colluders actually accomplish? Can you give me a tl;dr of wtf happened?

First, this year has been extremely stressful for reasons unrelated to the election so I missed a lot from January to June and have been playing catch-up from July to now.

1. So Hillary's emails were hacked by the Russians, right? And leaked by WikiLeaks? Why? What effect did that have on the election?
2. Is #1 suspected to be part of the "collusion"? How would Trump's team know how to hack something if they can't even tie their shoes?
3. Then Comey released some additional emails right before the election, but that isn't suspected to be Russian influence, is it?
4. Did Russians change actual votes? How could Trump's team have colluded on this? (See above about tying shoes)

The tl;dr on what I need the tl;dr for: what the Russians are suspected to have actually DONE to influence (or straight up rig) the election, and what role the campaign staff/administration had (or has). Obviously there's a lot we don't know or can't be proved, but I've lost track of what's even alleged to have happened and the import of it.
posted by AFABulous to Law & Government (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Wait no, it was the DNC's emails that were hacked, right? And Hillary's emails... idk... what is the constant reference to the 33,000 emails and the server "bleaching" about?
posted by AFABulous at 10:13 AM on August 3, 2017

And Hillary's emails... idk... what is the constant reference to the 33,000 emails and the server "bleaching" about?

The Clinton email thing, explained.

"Bleaching" refers to BleachBit, which is a commonly used bit of freeware that wipes out data to free up server space and ensure that it's actually gone (rather than the usual "deleting" from a computer, which doesn't really get rid of it).
posted by Etrigan at 10:19 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

This Vox Explainer is now a couple weeks out of date, but may help clear some stuff up.

Basically, though, the gist is: it's Not Cool for someone like a presidential campaign to work with a country considered... at least not really an ally, if not exactly an enemy, to "undermine" his opponent. There are a lot of ways to do this. They're allowed to work with various individuals who happen to be Russian, but if they actually worked with people they knew or suspected to be part of/related to/getting orders from the actual Russian Government, that's bad news. There is a lot of evidence of varying levels of convincing that some people on the Trump campaign did or at least attempted to do just this. This is bad because of obvious reasons and because it would then put those Americans at risk of fairly serious blackmail, which would allow Russia to then have undue and invisible influence on policy decisions, etc.
posted by brainmouse at 10:21 AM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

The Moscow Project has all the information you need.

"With a staff of five that will soon double to 10, the project is part clearinghouse, part think tank, and part private investigation agency; it recently hired a Russian-speaking forensic accountant from a high-profile firm. Its website keeps track of the ever-expanding story of the scandal and its key players, while its staffers brief members of Congress and compile reports on matters related to the Trump-Russia nexus. They coordinate experts across fields—including money laundering and counterintelligence—to get the clearest possible picture of what is happening with the scandal and the investigation."
posted by rada at 10:23 AM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

All this has been designed to muddy up the news with fake crap and confuse the low information voters in a few states in the rust belt, which is where 80,000 votes spread across PA. OH. and MI. made the difference. A Russian proven technique that they have used before in their country and in Europe. Whether they could do it did not matter, they were as shocked as anyone that it did work.

Remember it is a crime to even campaign within X yards of a polling place in America so this was a stealth attack to shift a few folks here and there on a grand scale and with Trump lying his ass off all the time, it added up.

A logical extension of the anti-Clinton mania, i.e. Hillary is always "up" to something, Clintons killed Vince Foster, smuggled cocaine into AK, murdered folks there, etc. Jerry Falwell sold VHS tapes laying it all out years ago and the true "believers" never gave up.
posted by Freedomboy at 10:30 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here's a rough "Explain like I'm 5" overview of your questions:

1. By leaking the DNC's emails, a lot of minor things were exposed that could be used to perpetuate a story of Clinton's corruption, like Clinton being given debate questions ahead of time, or Podesta engaging in Satan worship (since he was invited to a performance art event).

2. #1 is part of the collusion, not because the Trump team did it—Russian agents did it, hoping to get Trump elected, so that Trump would owe Russia.

3. Comey's actions were not part of the collusion. It's a different thing, but then Comey was the one who was tasked with investigating the collusion.

4. There's no public evidence that Russians changed actual votes. But that's not what people think swayed the election—that would go back to #1.
posted by ejs at 10:36 AM on August 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

This is just kind of a summary, you will probably want to catch up on some reports from the New York Times, who have done timelines, etc.

The DNC and the campaign manager of Hillary Clinton's campaign (John Podesta) had their emails hacked by the Russians. We don't know much about the collusion, but it sounds like the Trump campaign knew about the Russians illegally hacking the emails of the DNC and John Podesta and discussed how it would be best to release the emails and use them to attack Hillary. Donald Trump Jr., the Trump campaign manager and others had a meeting with Russians (including a lawyer for the Kremlin), who said they had some dirt to bring down Hillary, per the emails that Trump Jr himself released. Tellingly, right before that meeting was supposed to take place, Trump announced at a campaign stop that he would be sharing some explosive dirt on Hillary soon. Afterward, however, Trump never followed up on that or released anything. Instead, all this info was dropped via Wikileaks.

As for the Comey thing right before the election, the Russians influenced it there too, in a way they may or may not have foreseen. Part of it wasn't the Russians, to my understanding: Republicans pressed very hard to make Hillary's emails being on a private server some sort of scandal. It was blown way out of proportion (Trump has been far looser with classified information than she ever was), but they successfully made it a campaign issue. However, Russians produced some fake intelligence that Comey felt could call the email investigation into question, so he decided on his own to announced the investigation was over without consulting anyone else and he chose to have the announcement come from himself so that it wouldn't come from someone who people could have doubts about (again, due to the fake Russian intelligence). So when Comey told Congress days before the election that they found some of her emails in a separate investigation into Anthony Weiner, it was a "cover your ass" move for himself that was the result of him having made his proclamation clearing her earlier due to his worries over the fake Russian intelligence.

Obviously, Comey was then fired because he tried to investigate the Russia stuff. The justice department made up an excuse about his handling of Hillary's emails being the reason he was fired, but amazingly Trump denied this and admitted he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation. So Trump seems to be trying to cover up something with regards to Russia. Trump has also reportedly gone around asking if he can use a presidential pardon for his campaign staff in the event they get charged over the Russia stuff.

And that's just what we know. (Someone can jump in if I missed anything.) I bet the Russians meddled in other ways. On top of this, Russian is a hostile foreign nation to us -- we are two nations with very different values and priorities on the global scale. What Russia wants is not what the U.S. wants, and Russian interests are not in the interest of the U.S. So Putin basically was trying to install a guy who would further Russian interests, which is not good for the U.S. I'm not sure if what happened rises to the level of treason, but it feels rather treasonous.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:37 AM on August 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

4. Did Russians change actual votes? How could Trump's team have colluded on this? (See above about tying shoes)

No votes are suspected to have been changed, but the Russians hackers are suspected to have gotten voter registration data by targeted spearphishing campaigns against electoral officials. They also seem to have had access to very specific voter data, which they used for targeted disinformation campaigns (actual fake news) in specific Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan districts, which may very well have swung the electoral college for Trump. The suspicion is that Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm run by Bannon, Kushner (and/or their associates) provided the voter data to the Russian hackers/botnet masters, but that link hasnt' been established yet. If it were, that would be the smoking gun of collusion. What has been shown in the press and admitted by the campaign is that senior campagin officials (Don Jr, Kushner, Manafort) met with Russian officials with the intention of obtaining oppo research on Hillary Clinton. While they may or may not have received actual damaging information, it would be illegal for them to accept such information (accepting something of value from foreign agents) and the emails show they were perfectly willing to do so. It's also not clear if the Don Jr meeting was the only such meeting or if that was the tip of the iceberg (more likely given that we also know that Jared Kushner met with the Russian ambassador and discussed setting up a so-called backchannel at the Russian embassy. This would really be using Russian secure comms to avoid having the US government/intel agencies know what was happening).
posted by TwoWordReview at 10:38 AM on August 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

The tl;dr on what I need the tl;dr for: what the Russians are suspected to have actually DONE to influence (or straight up rig) the election, and what role the campaign staff/administration had (or has).

They're alleged to have coordinated with the campaign to release stolen documents via wikileaks, and coordinate with the campaign to hyper-target fake news generated by russian propaganda outlets using voter data from the campaign and stolen from state voter databases.
posted by empath at 11:20 AM on August 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

It's important to distinguish between Russian intervention and Trump campaign collusion. The former is an international diplomacy issue and the latter is a US crime issue. The former is pretty much a proven fact but the latter is only approaching the reasonable suspicion level.

If the campaign tried to get info about HRC from the Russians, that's a crime. Doesn't matter if they got anything, or if it affected the election. The evidence so far is mostly a long string of meetings that campaign officials had with Russians and failed to report when they should have or otherwise lied about. The only thing that actually looks like evidence of collusion is one sentence from Don Jr which may well have crossed the line but is probably not enough in itself for prosecution.

The biggest reason to think there is a Big Secret that the White House is trying to hide is how many lies have been told.

A third point is that Trump may be obstructing justice, either from paranoia about his business dealings being made public or because there is some criminal behavior, such as money laundering, to hide.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:38 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, it's worth pointing out that many people who worked for the campaign and were Trump allies lied about meeting with Russians before they took up office in the White House, including Jeff Sessions, who is now the Attorney General, Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law who is weirdly doing a bunch of jobs in the White House despite no government experience, and Micheal Flynn, who Trump originally appointed National Security Adviser before he was pushed out, and others. Contacts with foreign governments are required to be disclosed. So there's a pretty impressive trail of Trump people lying about their relationships to Russia and trying to hide any Russian influence, which suggests far more is going on than we know.

To answer your basic question though, right now, the most solid evidence of collusion is the meeting with Donald Trump Jr, Trump's campaign manager, Jared Kushner, a Kremlin-connected lawyer, a Russian lobbyist, and others to discuss dirt on Hillary. The emails speak for themselves.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:59 AM on August 3, 2017

At the risk of repeating what’s been said, I’m going to try to answer your questions, but not rehash the whole history. There is some opinion and conjecture here, but I tried to be clear about what the actual evidence is today.

I don't know what they actually colluded to do. And what did the colluders actually accomplish?

First, no one has proved any collusion at this point. Multiple US intelligence agencies have said unequivocally that Russia attempted to influence the 2016 Presidential election in favor of Donald Trump.

The Russian government did this through multiple methods, but the ones we know about are:
* Hacking the DNC’s email system
* Hacking Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s email account
* Passing those emails to Wikileaks over several months to be released slowly, creating an ongoing aura of suspicion around the Clinton campaign in an effort to help the Trump campaign.
* Creating an ongoing campaign of fake news (actual fake news) via Facebook to negatively affect Clinton’s campaign.
* Attempting to hack voter registration databases and voting systems. Reports are that these attempts were unsuccessful, but (and this is my opinion) it’s likely that there was some level of success, at least in regard to voter registration. Based on the evidence so far, even a low level of success wasn’t enough to throw the election results into question.

Answering your question, the investigation is whether the Trump campaign colluded with a hostile foreign power to influence an American Presidential election. IANAL, so I can’t define collusion. The question is (to me) whether they assisted, cooperated with, traded information about, etc. the Russian effort to hack or influence the US election. It is clear from the Donald Trump Jr. Russia meeting, that the Trump campaign knew the Russian government was attempting to influence the election, but did nothing to report it.

There is some unconfirmed information that indicates that someone helped Russians target fake news to the specific block of voters who ended up deciding the election. The number of people with access to information that precise is extremely limited. Judging by their actions, even the Clinton campaign didn't know to target those specific voters. Again, I believe this is unconfirmed at this point. One person on the Trump digital team has denied knowledge of this taking place.

1. So Hillary's emails were hacked by the Russians, right? And leaked by WikiLeaks? Why? What effect did that have on the election?

No. There is a rumor that Hillary’s emails were hacked by the Russians, and Trump campaign officials (Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort, I believe) took a meeting where they were told damaging information would be provided by the Russian government. Trump Sr. publicly encouraged Russian hackers to "find" her email, and referenced the emails in mid-May and on June 2. The first record of communication in regards to the Trump Jr./Russia meeting was the next morning. The Trump campaign claims that the information on Clinton wasn’t provided during the meeting. Hillary’s personal emails have not been released, so the likelihood is that they were never hacked.
See the timeline here:

The emails that were leaked, from both the DNC and Podesta, had the effect of undermining voter confidence in Clinton and creating a false air of suspicion around her campaign.

2. Is #1 suspected to be part of the "collusion"? How would Trump's team know how to hack something if they can't even tie their shoes?
Hillary’s emails were never part of the Russian effort, except as a rumor. The DNC and Podesta emails were. The information is that the Russians did the hacking, not the Trump team. The Trump team could have colluded by assisting with when to publish emails, where to publish them, which emails to publish, which voters to target with fake news, or by simply passing hacked information back and forth to the Russians. I would argue that if they had prior knowledge of any of this information, they were secretly communicating with the Russian government, which is collusion.

Trump and associates (Roger Stone, I believe), by their public proclamations, did seem to have prior knowledge of information being released. Again, the campaign basically admitted to knowing of the Russian government effort to smear Clinton, which they welcomed enthusiastically and did not report to law enforcement.

3. Then Comey released some additional emails right before the election, but that isn't suspected to be Russian influence, is it?
Comey didn’t release any email. In the course of investigating Anthony Weiner for a separate crime (sexting young women), the FBI found email on his laptop computer from his wife, Huma Abedin to Hillary Clinton. Abedin is a close Clinton advisor and friend. Immediately before the election, Comey wrote a letter to Congress saying that the FBI would investigate those emails.

The emails were on the laptop because Abedin at some point had connected her Blackberry device to the laptop, triggering a backup. She had previously turned the Blackberry over to the FBI. These emails would almost certainly have existed in a specific backup folder, and any reasonably competent technician would have known that almost immediately. Even if agents suspected that emails existed on the backup that didn’t exist on the Blackberry itself (i.e. Abedin deleted them from the device) it would have taken a few hours to a day at most to determine that the emails were the same.

Ultimately, that’s exactly what was determined. The emails on the laptop and Blackberry were the same. Comey should never have said anything, because the FBI could have cleared the emails almost immediately. Polling indicates that Comey's letter cost Clinton a few percentage points, and ultimately, the election.

4. Did Russians change actual votes? How could Trump's team have colluded on this? (See above about tying shoes)
There is no evidence as of now that Russians changed votes. However, voting system security is a serious question, and there is still some question about Russians changing voter registration databases. But so far there’s no evidence that either happened. Again, the Trump team didn’t need any technical chops to say “Change votes in these counties." Or "Drop voter registrations for two out of ten voters under 25 in this part of this State.” Again, there is absolutely NO evidence today that those things happened. But collusion doesn’t require the Trump campaign to actually do the dirty work. It just requires them to have helped it along.

Finally, the ongoing investigation is about the Trump campaign colluding with Russia, but it may also be about whether or not Trump obstructed justice in the investigation and could potentially include other crimes discovered in the course of the investigation.
posted by cnc at 1:16 PM on August 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

I don't think we have the full picture of what the collusion was. We've only gradually learned about the various contacts between Russian agents and the Trump campaign. Here are some links that helped me get a better grasp:

C-SPAN video: Testimony of Bill Browder
This has been repeatedly recommended as a "must-watch" on the politics megathread; it definitely helped a lot of pieces click in my head (especially about what Russia's motives are). Browder goes through the background of the Magnitsky Act and sanctions against Russia.

Super-short summary: Russia is a kleptocracy, Putin's wealth came from proceeds of crime, extortion, human rights abuses --> US enacts Magnitsky Act to restrict activities of Russian kleptocrats --> Russia govt. retaliates and is still lobbying hard to overturn or at least weaken Magnitsky Act in order to amass/control/protect money

The last part is what ties in to current events. The lawyer from the infamous Don Jr. meeting with "the Russian lawyer" is a lawyer for one of the oligarchs and has been a key person acting for Russian interests and trying to counteract the Magnitsky Act. We don't know what exactly was offered, but Browder believes the meeting discussed the Magnitsky sanctions. (This explains why "adoptions" came up. One of the ways that Russia retaliated against the Magnitsky Act was by restricting adoptions of Russian children by American families. In the hearing, the committee and Browder discuss how "adoptions" is code for "sanctions.")

Even if it's unlikely that Congress will undo the Magnitsky Act, there are aspects in that Act and others that Russians would want to keep or have a say in changing. An example of a potential loophole: the executive (US President) can control who gets blacklisted. So if you're at risk of being put on the list, it makes sense for you to start contacting and getting friendly with the executive. (Another, huge loophole in another law, covered in the Browder testimony: you don't have to register under FARA if you're a company.)

So at this point, we have motive (both sides wanted something, had something to offer or pretend to offer) and contact (emails, meeting(s), talk of plan to set up a communication channel via Russian embassy). Add to that a layer of lack of transparency (see: pattern of people in Trump campaign/administration who have failed to disclose dealings with foreign agents and interests). Some people have pointed out that the usual protocol would not have been to take the meeting even if offered, and that suggests an extra layer of suspicion that this campaign was--whether unwittingly or not--open to collusion.

Also: Just a general reminder that a conspiracy is still a conspiracy even if it doesn't achieve its goals.

More links:

New York Times Opinion piece by two ex-CIA analysts offers a recent summary and their take on the case for collusion: Oh, Wait. Maybe It Was Collusion.

Timelines (these are just a couple examples; there are many versions out there):
Billmoyers.com: A Timeline: Russia and President Trump
Susan Simpson / View from LL2 blog: Russian Contacts and Investigative Interference: A Timeline (has both text and graphic versions)
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 1:22 PM on August 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

One thing that is sort of tangential but interwoven with your questions is that the Trump (business) empire has a lot of connections to Russian money. How many connections and how much money? Well, that is something Trump is hiding and occasionally denying exists.

This opens up the president to leverage from Russia.mr oligarch can demand repayments of loans or cut off future monies if Trump, say, meddles with Russian land grabs (Georgia, Ukraine) or adds or enforces sanctions designed to limit or lessen Russian powers
posted by Jacen at 7:20 PM on August 3, 2017

Nth the Browder testimony. In the larger scheme, it seems that Trump and his associates have been groomed to service Putin's agenda for quite a while. The recent "collusion" may be only a couple jagged edges atop a huge iceberg of incidents entangling the Trump machine. I can even buy into the theory that Putin himself orchestrated the scattering of breadcrumbs left around for American journalists to "discover."

It could well be that Trump.org is too stupid and self-involved to collude. Let's let the investigations play out, and see more evidence that the clothes have no Emperor.
posted by mule98J at 11:40 AM on August 4, 2017

Also: OnceUponATime has compiled Russia-related information and links at 2016 Active Measures .
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 1:55 PM on August 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

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