Untwisting the Strands

Talking Points for Discussions of Russia-Trump Collusion: Untwisting the Strands

This page provides talking points for use in discussions with people who are reluctant to believe the Trump campaign and administration was, and is, colluding with Russia. Huge thanks to Frank Vyan Walton's work for providing the impetus, direction, and much of the content for this page.

So what is "collusion"? The standard definition is a "secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat or deceive others." The legal definition is "illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially between ostensible opponents in a lawsuit."

Collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign (and administration) has already been conclusively demonstrated by the information released in the mass media as well as by the words and actions of Trump and his associates. It has not yet been legally proven because no cases have yet gone to court.

Walton writes:

Trump's entire campaign could be called a form of internal "collusion" simply because they were clearly all working together and keeping secrets. All you need to prove collusion with Russia is to show that various parties on both sides attempted to conspire together and they attempted to keep that conspiracy a secret and/or to violate the law. They don't have to succeed at what they're trying to do, they only have to both try to do it – even if their efforts are performed separately, like a relay race – and have a secret shared goal. Whether it's criminal or not, is another additional step.

At this point there is ample evidence that various members of the Trump campaign, including Donald, conspired together, sometimes to violate the law, in coordination with Russians, and they definitely tried to keep it a secret.


Talking Points for Discussions of Russia-Trump Collusion


Donald Trump and George Papadopoulos colluded and conspired to negotiate with Russians in violation of US sanctions and the Logan Act.

Trump became directly involved in a conspiracy with Papadopoulos when the advisor told Trump about trying to set up meetings between Trump and Vladimir Putin. Some campaign officials such as Sam Clovis wrote that such a meeting was inadvisable and that NATO allies should be consulted before any such meetings were proposed. Another advisor, retired Admiral Charles Kubic, said that such a meeting would violate US sanctions against Russia and possibly violate the Logan Act, which prohibits US citizens from unauthorized negotiation with foreign governments.

Papadopoulos violated federal law by failing to report felonies committed by the Russians to obtain "dirt" – potentially damaging informatin – on Hillary Clinton.

Papadopoulos was specifically told by the Russians that they had gained access to "thousands of Hillary Clinton's emails." At that point, Papadopoulos became guilty of what is called "misprision of felony." In lay terms, Papadopoulos now knew that someone, in this case the Russians, had committed a felony. It was Papadopoulos's duty to report this felony to the FBI. Since he did not, he became an accessory to that felony. Moreover, the Russians now had the means to blackmail Papadopoulos into doing their bidding. To make things even worse, Papadopoulos was shown a "preview of how releases of the emails might look," according to the memo released by House Intelligence Committee Democrats. Not only did he remain silent about the emails during the campaign, he later lied to the FBI about his contacts with the Russians. The Russians made it clear that they could help with disseminating the emails – in other words, coordinate the release of selected emails with the campaign in order to inflict maximum damage on the Clinton campaign. Ranking committee Adam Schiff said, "When Donald Trump openly called on the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton's emails, they'd be richly rewarded if they released these to the press, his campaign had already been put on notice that the Russians were prepared to do just that and disseminate these stolen emails." So, well before anyone in the FBI or Democratic National Committee knew that the Russians had damaging information on Clinton and that they were prepared to release that information, the Trump campaign knew. Later claims that somehow the Obama administration was at fault for not stopping the Russian sabotage (even though Obama told Putin to stop the election meddling and even threatened direct action against Russia), Obama did not know of the Russian interference until September. The FBI did not know until July. The Trump campaign knew in April. Instead of informing the FBI or the White House about the Russian sabotage, the Trump campaign tried to get the information for itself, and worked with the Russians to coordinate the release of the information. This constitutes collusion and possibly criminal conspiracy. Papadopoulos is involved in what many lawyers believe to be a criminal conspiracy with Trump and other senior campaign officials. He is complicit in the actions of the Russians by helping them conceal their crimes. Walton writes: "We could stop right here, we are functionally done – this is collusion and it’s criminal. But wait, it gets worse."

Donald Trump Jr. violated FEC rules, colluded, conspired and negotiated with Russians in order to obtain their "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort all engaged in criminal conspiracy and complicity (see "misprision of felony" in the previous entry) as well. When Trump Jr.'s publicist friend Rob Goldstone emailed him offering to set up a meeting with him and some Russians offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton – Goldstone's words were that the information would "incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father" as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump," Don Jr. did not go to the FBI as he is required to do. Instead, he wrote back: "[I]f it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer." Later in the summer was, of course, during the general election, when Trump would face Clinton directly. Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort all met with several Russians, at least two of which are likely Russian intelligence assets. The meeting was with the understanding that they would be given compromising information on Clinton. Trump Jr. later said that no one committed any crimes because, he said, the Russians didn't actually provide them any information. This is entirely false. They broke FEC rules by trying to accept anything of value from a foreign national for the campaign, and criminal law by attempting to accept illegally gotten materials (the hacked Clinton emails). Worse for Trump Jr.'s argument, the Russians said they reached a tentative deal with him during the meeting. One of the Russians at the meeting, lawyer and known intelligence asset Natalia Veselnitskaya, later said she went to the meeting to prove to Trump officials that Democratic officials had committed tax evasion, and to lobby against the 2012 Magnitsky Act. She will say that Trump Jr. was open to working towards repealing the law. That tentative agreement is a violation of the Logal Act. Walton writes: "This offer was dropped as soon as the information [on Clinton] wasn't provided, so clearly the implication was 'give us the dirt, and we will play ball on sanctions.'" Less than a week after the June 9 meeting, the Russian hacker construct "Guccifer 2.0" released the DNC's opposition file on Trump. The next day, the same hacker construct used a hastily constructed cut-out, DCLeaks, to release the first of a long series of emails hacked from the DNC. As Walton writes: "Dirt delivered."

Carter Page acted as a surrogate for Trump in his illegal collusion, and engaged in conspiratorial negotiations with Russia.

Papadopoulos personally reported his success at reaching out to the Russians to Trump, and pitched the idea of a Trump-Putin "summit" to the candidate. However, senior official Jeff Sessions reportedly nixed the idea of such a meeting because it could well be illegal. Campaign chair Paul Manafort emails his partner Rick Gates to say that such a meeting would have to be with someone other than Trump, showing that they were part of a continuing conspiracy to violate the Logan Act regardless of Sessions's objections. Manafort forwarded one Papadopoulos email to Gates, writing: "Let[‘]s discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal." Walton asks: "And who would be receiving that signal, could it be the FBI?" Manafort spoke with his Russian contacts, and outgoing campaign chair Corey Lewandowski agreed that foreign policy advisor Carter Page would go to Moscow. The trip was ostensibly a "non-campaign" event. Page met with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, and was told by Kremlin official Igor Divyekin that "Russia had compromising materials on Hillary Clinton," as shown in the House Intelligence Committee Democrats' memo concerning Page's FISA warrant. Additionally, oligarch Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations for Rosneft, told Page about an impending sale of a large portion of that company's stock. Page was prohibited from having any dealings with Rosneft or its stock by US sanctions. The Steele dossier shows that Baranov offered Page a percentage of the sale of that stock in return for influencing Trump to end the US sanctions. This, as Walton points out, is "quid pro quo collusion, plain and simple." Page has denied the offer but admitted discussing it with Baranov, even though the discussion itself violates the sanctions. His discussion with Divyekin violates the Logan Act. This set of interactions proves that the conspiracy to collude with Russia involved, at a minimum, Trump, Page, Papadopoulos, Manafort, Gates, and possibly Lewandowski. The previously described Trump Tower meeting mandates the inclusion of Trump Jr. and Kushner in the conspiracy. The conspiracy was confirmed in Page's meeting with Divyekin.

The Trump campaign began adjusting policy to reward and entice the Russians to release their damaging information on Clinton.

Senior Trump campaign foreign policy advisor J.D. Gordon, who was part of the meeting where Papadopoulos pitched his idea for Trump to meet with Putin, was the central figure in the campaign's successful attempt to block an RNC platform plank about Ukraine that would have upset the Russians. And as usual, Gordon and campaign chair Paul Manafort lied about the change afterwards. Gordon eventually admitted on CNN that he pushed for the change to reflect Trump's wishes. Why would Gordon and the campaign lie about the change unless, as Walton writes, "they already had damn good reasons to distance themselves from the appearance of doing favors for Russia?" The change was made just days before WikiLeaks released an enormous trove of DNC emails. Trump openly invited the Russians to "release Hillary's missing emails" five days later, which, Walton believes, "he knew very well who had stolen them." Since those emails were permanently deleted long before the campaigns began and the Russians began their hacks, the only way to get more emails for release was for the Russians to hack potential recipients of those emails. In early August, WikiLeaks began releasing emails hacked from the DCCC. In early October, the Russians began releasing emails that they falsely claimed were from the Clinton Foundation. Three days later, WikiLeaks releases emails hacked from Clinton's campaign chair John Podesta – three hours after the media released the Access Hollywood tape that showed Trump bragging about sexual assault, in a successful attempt to deflect media attention from that scandal and the same day that the US intelligence community officially confirmed that the hacks had been directed by the Kremlin. Walton asks sardonically, "So that was some really lucky timing, wasn’t it?"

Trump and Don Jr. falsely defended and denied Russia's crimes to coverup their conspiracy.

On July 22, after the media revealed that Russians had hacked Democratic campaign computers and the same day that WikiLeaks dumped a huge amount of Clinton campaign emails, Clinton campaign chair Robbie Mook told the media that the DNC had been hacked by Russians. Donald Trump Jr. responded by berating Mook. "This is, time and time again, lie after lie," Trump Jr. said about Mook. "You notice he won't say, 'Well, I say this.' He'll say, 'Here are experts, here's house cat at home who once said this is what’s happening with the Russians. … It's disgusting. It's so phony." Perhaps the viciousness of Trump Jr.'s response can be explained by his knowledge that Russians had hacked the DNC and the Trump campaign was using those emails. The chain of events shortly after Trump Jr.'s "disgusted" response includes: the attempt by Republican opposition researcher Peter Smith to find and disseminate Clinton's private emails; the attempt by Florida GOP operative and registered lobbyist Aaron Nevins to spread hacked information from the Russian hackers; the prediction of the release of Clinton campaign emails by informal campaign advisor Roger Stone; the funnelling of Russian money into the Trump campaign; the mid-August release of emails and documents hacked from the DCCC; the exchange of private messages between Stone and the Russian hackers; the use of Russian-sourced false stories by the Trump campaign to inundate social media; the admission by WikiLeaks that it timed its major email release to disrupt the Democratic National Convention; an invitation from WikiLeaks for the Trump campaign to begin downloading information from their private site; and the beginning of a lengthy and potentially damning conversation between WikiLeaks and Donald Trump Jr. Trump Jr. is well aware of the collusion between himself, other campaign officials, and the Russians sabotaging the election. Trump Jr. will later attempt to deny any connections whatsoever to Russia.

Trump and his campaign falsely denied their illegal contacts with Russians.

Two days after the election, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Rybakov spilled some of the beans on the campaign. "There were contacts" between Russian governmental officials and the Trump campaign, he said. "We are doing this and have been doing this during the election campaign." Rybakov said the Kremlin was in touch with a number of Trump's closest allies and associates: "Obviously, we know most of the people from his [Trump's] entourage. Those people have always been in the limelight in the United States and have occupied high-ranking positions." And, Rybakov added, those contacts ould continue. Senior campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks issued a blanket denial: "It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign." Hicks lied, not just because she was certainly told to issue the denial, but because she had been forwarded an email by Jared Kushner about Trump Jr.'s contacts with WikiLeaks. Counting Hicks's lie with the other Trump-Russia lies told by campaign officials George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn, Trump Jr., Jeff Sessions, Carter Page, Kushner, Paul Manafort, and others, the lying was not accidental. It was deliberate and orchestrated.

Various Trump associates secretly and illegally met or contacted Russians over both business deals and foreign policy during the campaign and transition.

The contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian governmental officials, intelligence agents, oligarchs, and criminals throughout the campaign are almost too many to document. Most of them violated the Logan Act. Donald Trump Jr. met with Russian financier and reported mob figure Alexander Torshin at an NRA event; the meeting was originally conceived for Trump himself and was declined by Jared Kushner. During his confirmation hearings for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions lied under oath by claiming he knew of no Trump officials who met with Russians, and he himself had never met with Russians. Both were flagrant lies. He knew about George Papadopoulos's meetings with numerous Russians, and he and Trump met with the Russian ambassador in April 2016. Sessions also met with the ambassador with two other campaign officials during the Republican National Convention. He also met with the ambassador in his Senate office, where they discussed the US sanctions against Russia. Sessions recused himself from overseeing the Trump-Russia investigation because of his lies. Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor, took $60,000 from Russia and another $530,000 from Turkey on behalf of Russia during the campaign, and lied about it on his security disclosure forms. He met with Russians during the campaign to set up a multi-billion dollar nuclear facility construction project in the Middle East with the Russian nuclear company Rosatom, which was and is under sanctions. He lied to the FBI about meeting with Russians during the campaign and afterwards. Some of the money he took from Turkey was to take part in a kidnapping plot against a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania. He took part in a scheme with Jared Kushner to set up a secret "back channel" communications network with the Kremlin that would have cut out US intelligence, enabling the Trump administration to secretly discuss matters with Vladimir Putin or his officials without the CIA or NSA being aware of the discussions. Flynn, Kushner and former chief strategist Steve Bannon secretly met with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and facilitated a second meeting between the royal figure and former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince. Kushner met with Russian banker Sergei Gorkov, who is assumed to be a Russian intelligence asset, at then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak's suggestion, ostensibly for non-governmental business discussions. Gorkov's bank is sanctioned, so any deals struck between Kushner and Gorkov would violate the sanctions. Paul Manafort worked for pro-Russian interests in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries for decades. He and his associate Rick Gates made millions, and apparently owe millions, to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who used Manafort to promote Putin's agenda in the US and overseas. In July 2016, Manafort offered Deripaska "private briefings" on the campaign in return for Deripaska forgiving some of the debt owed to him by Manafort and Gates. (Walton surmises that "they was essentially offering the Russians 'dirt' on Trump, for a price.") Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen worked with former Trump business partner Felix Sater to get the Kremlin's assistance in building a Trump Tower complex in Moscow, with Sater boasting to Cohen: "I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. … Buddy, our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. … I will get all of Putin's team to buy in on this, I will manage this process." Cohen even reached out directly to the Kremlin for assistance in approving the contract.

The Trump administration has attempted multiple times to end US sanctions against Russia for no legitimate reason.

The Trump team entered the White House with the determination to end the US sanctions against Russia. During the transition, while the Obama administration was still in charge, Michael Flynn reached out to the Kremlin to persuade them not to retaliate against the new sanctions President Obama leveled against Russia. Days after the inauguration, the new administration attempted to unilaterally lift the sanctions by tasking State Department officials to come up with methods to end economic sanctions, restore confiscated diplomatic compounds that were being used in Moscow's "active measures" campaign against the US, and other initiatives. The House and Senate responded by passing a new sanctions bill against Russia that Trump has refused to implement. In the first few weeks of the administration, Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and former Trump business associate Felix Sater crafted a "peace" proposal for Ukraine that was heavily slanted to favor Russia; it was given to Flynn, but it is unclear whether Trump ever reviewed it. As this is written (March 2018), the Trump administration is still exploring ways to ease or lift sanctions despite opposition from Congress and the State Department, even though Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has effectively dismantled the department's Sanctions Office and failed to spend a dime of the $120 million allocated to the department to fight Russia's cyber intrusions.