Donald Trump keeps claiming that there has been no collusion with Russia. But Robert Mueller isn't investigating collusion. He's investigating conspiracy. Christian Farias writes:
Rick Gates, Trump’s deputy campaign manager and a longtime associate of Paul Manafort, became the first person in Mueller’s crosshairs to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. This curious, catchall offense also appeared in the February indictment of 13 Russian trolls, all of whom were charged with “impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”
And, the more Mueller interviews individuals, the more conspiracy charges appear to be on the horizon:
Which brings us to this past weekend’s revelations about the role Cambridge Analytica, the data-analytics firm closely associated with Steve Bannon and the Trump campaign, played during the presidential election. Twin reports in the New York Times and The Guardian shed light on a staggering data-mining operation that resulted in the firm improperly obtaining tens of millions of Facebook profiles, which it then exploited for political micro-targeting. Or as Christopher Wylie, the whistle-blower who leaked this information put it, the technology he helped create with Cambridge Analytica was “Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool.”
There’s nothing criminal about swaying voters, and neither the Times nor the Guardian account is conclusive as to how Cambridge Analytica may have aided Russia’s election meddling, if at all. But this bit in the paper of record suggests the special counsel is already on to something: “While the substance of Mr. Mueller’s interest is a closely guarded secret, documents viewed by the Times indicate that the firm’s British affiliate claims to have worked in Russia and Ukraine.” Mueller, for his part, has already asked the firm for the emails of any employees who did work on behalf of the Trump campaign. And even Julian Assange has accused Cambridge Analytica’s CEO of attempting to obtain from WikiLeaks damaging emails belonging to Hillary Clinton.
Based on the precedent Mueller has already set, it wouldn’t be a stretch to expect his office to bring a fresh round of federal conspiracy charges against actors — whether that be Assange, executives at Cambridge Analytica, or other intermediaries — who attempted to impair the lawful functions of the government by concealing activities that they should’ve disclosed to, say, the Federal Election Commission or the Justice Department. “A method that makes uses of innocent individuals or businesses to reach and defraud the United States is not, for that reason, beyond the scope” of the law of conspiracy, the Supreme Court said some 30 years ago.
I suspect that Mueller has a strong case about Trump's money laundering. But when it comes to Russia, the big word is conspiracy.