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Trump’s “NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION” tweet, explained

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President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation has exonerated him, finding “NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION” between his campaign and Russia. The tweet is misleading since the committee’s report is not yet complete.

But committee chair Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) did recently tell reporters that after a lengthy investigation, he had not yet seen evidence of collusion. And NBC News reported Tuesday that Democratic committee sources also acknowledge their probe has so far uncovered “no direct evidence” of a conspiracy to interfere with the election — though they said the pattern of contacts between Trump’s team and Russia they uncovered was troubling.

The committee has reportedly conducted more than 200 interviews, reviewed hundreds of thousands of documents, and conducted the most thorough, bipartisan congressional investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. (Burr, it should be noted, also advised Trump’s campaign on national security, though he has shown some willingness to occasionally push back against the president.)

Now Burr is basically saying that after all that, the committee has found no smoking gun of collusion. Democrats aren’t really disputing that, though they’ve said what they have found is troubling enough. The committee’s top Democrat, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, said Tuesday that he won’t describe his conclusions until the investigation is finished.

It’s important to note, though, that this investigation has been carried out completely separately from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, and did not have all the investigatory tools available to Mueller. The special counsel’s investigation remains ongoing.

What Trump is saying

On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted a boast about what he characterized as the Senate Intelligence Committee’s conclusion that “THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION BETWEEN THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN AND RUSSIA!”

Trump’s tweet is misleading. While Burr, the chair of the committee, did say during a recent interview with CBS News that “If we write a report based upon the facts that we have, then we don’t have anything that would suggest there was collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia,” Warner, the committee’s ranking member, has since publicly disagreed with that view.

“Respectfully, I disagree,” Warner said on Tuesday. “I’m not going to get into any conclusions I’ve reached because my basis of this has been that I’m not going to reach any conclusion until we finish the investigation. And we still have a number of the key witnesses to come back.”

Trump has repeatedly suggested on Twitter that Burr, who served as a senior national security adviser during his campaign, speaks for the whole committee. He doesn’t. The state of play was more accurately captured by a tweet Trump posted on February 7 in which he highlighted Burr’s conclusion but refrained from putting words in any other senator’s mouth.

While it might be tempting to downplay Burr’s comments — after all, he served on Trump’s campaign, so he’s not exactly an objective source — he’s apparently not alone. NBC reports that some unnamed Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee agree with him that they’ve seen no evidence of collusion so far.

Why the Senate Intelligence Committee’s conclusion matters

The Senate Intelligence Committee has been conducting the only bipartisan congressional investigation into Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election and the Trump campaign’s involvement in it.

While former House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) worked in tandem with the White House to try to exonerate Trump and excluded Democrats from his committee’s investigation, Burr has shown more of a willingness to challenge the president’s preferred narratives.

Last summer, for instance, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a memo affirming the US intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the election and did so to help Trump. While that might not seem like much, it undercut Trump’s assertions that the notion the Kremlin helped him is a “hoax.”

However, few expected the Senate committee to issue the “last word” on what happened during 2016 — the Mueller probe is generally viewed as more extensive and likelier to surface the truth.

But there are reasons to be skeptical of what Barr says

On other occasions, however, Burr has demonstrated an eagerness to help Trump, and a willingness to break with the intelligence community.

In February 2017, for instance, Burr and Nunes were enlisted by the White House to help tamp down media reports about the Trump’s campaign communications with Russia — reports that were later corroborated as more information emerged about the Trump campaign’s extensive and secretive Russia contacts.

Burr and Nunes “made calls to news organizations … in attempts to challenge stories about alleged contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives,” the Washington Post reported. In an interview with the Post, Burr acknowledged communicating with news organizations “to dispute articles by the New York Times and CNN that alleged ‘repeated’ or ‘constant’ contact between Trump campaign members and Russian intelligence operatives.”

Burr’s conduct was criticized by Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer saying he had been put “on notice” because his conduct “certainly gives the appearance, if not the reality, of a lack of impartiality.”

Burr eventually seemed to realize that this wasn’t a great look. In July 2017, he told reporters that he planned to stay away from the White House while his committee’s investigation was ongoing.

He also went to great lengths to protect Trump during the campaign. As Ryan Goodman of Just Security details, Burr was notably reluctant to affirm the intelligence community’s October 7, 2016, statement that Russia was responsible for hacking the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. And even though he as a member of the Gang of Eight was briefed in the summer of 2016 by the CIA about the Kremlin’s work on behalf of Trump, Burr made public statements at odds with what the intelligence community was telling him.

“I have yet to see anything that would lead me to believe” Russia was interfering to benefit Trump, Burr said on October 3, 2016, in a comment that differed from what the intelligence community was saying then and hasn’t aged well since.

What is “collusion,” anyway?

An anonymous Democratic aide who spoke to NBC to push back on Burr’s comments took a maximalist view of “collusion.”

“We were never going to find a contract signed in blood saying, ‘Hey, Vlad, we’re going to collude,’” the aide said.

But “collusion” could be a lot less explicit than a blood contract, and it’s worth remembering that we’ve already seen plenty of evidence of collusion. To cite just a few examples:

  • Trump secretively pursued lucrative business opportunities in Moscow during a campaign in which the Russian government conspired to help him.
  • Trump lied about his business dealings with Russia both during and after the campaign.
  • Trump lavished praise on Putin throughout the campaign, and publicly encouraged Russian hackers to “find” Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails.
  • The Trump campaign was notified in writing of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” in June 2016 and took a meeting with Kremlin-connected Russians who were offering dirt on Hillary Clinton anyway.

Is any of that “collusion”? Burr seems to think it isn’t. But Warner might think differently.

The investigations aren’t over

While Trump responds to Burr’s comments by spiking the football, Axios reports that “House Democrats plan a vast probe of President Trump and Russia — with a heavy focus on money laundering — that will include multiple committees and dramatic public hearings, and could last into 2020.”

Meanwhile, Mueller’s investigation continues, and the Senate Intelligence Committee has much more work to do too. Democratic Senate investigators told NBC the committee hasn’t finished interviewing people yet, and will take many months to write a final report after that.

Democratic investigators “have uncovered facts yet to be made public, and that they hope to make Americans more fully aware of the extent to which the Russians manipulated the US presidential election with the help of some Trump officials, witting or unwitting,” according to NBC’s Ken Dilanian.

Dilanian continues: “The report, Democrats say, will not be good for Trump.”


The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.

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Vox Sentences: The pope will listen to survivors

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Vox Sentences is your daily digest for what’s happening in the world. Sign up for the Vox Sentences newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday, or view the Vox Sentences archive for past editions.

The Vatican prepares to talk about the sexual abuse of minors; Australia is hit with a cyberattack.


“The Protection of Minors in the Church”


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  • The Vatican prepared Monday for a Thursday meeting called “The Protection of Minors in the Church,” which will address the long and destructive history of sexual abuse of children by officials of the church. Pope Francis and presidents from international bishops’ conferences will gather for four days to meet with abuse survivors and increase transparency. [NYT / Jason Horowitz and Elisabetta Povoledo]
  • Boston Archbishop Seán O’Malley, one of the few Americans who advise Pope Francis, says the church still lacks a procedure for how to deal with bishops accused of abuse. And addressing those wrongs is only complicated by the fact that most of the cases still waiting for justice occurred decades ago. [Atlantic / Emma Green]
  • The Vatican took decisive action over the weekend against a cleric it had long shielded: ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The former archbishop of Washington became the highest-ranking American cardinal to be defrocked after he was found guilty of abusing minors. McCarrick was made cardinal in 2001, despite the church knowing of accusations against him. [Vox / Amanda Sakuma]
  • On the same day the summit starts, an explosive new book by a French journalist will be released, alleging that the Catholic Church is “one of the biggest gay communities in the world.” In the Closet of the Vatican could be the first reliable account of gay members of the clergy, which has some members of the church worried it could distract from the meeting’s goal: addressing the abuse of minors. [CNN / Daniel Burke]
  • Gay Catholic priests have long been terrified to come out, fearing repercussions from the church, which almost always controls a priest’s housing, health insurance, and retirement pension. The Times spoke to two dozen anonymously, who said the environment is only getting worse, with homosexuality increasingly being blamed for clergy abuse of young boys. [NYT / Elizabeth Dias]
  • Relations between the Vatican and US church leaders like O’Malley on abuse cases are becoming more and more tense. O’Malley was excluded from organizing this week’s summit on sex abuse, despite his top position on the commission for the protection of minors. The Vatican thinks American leadership is going too far — even in the practice of publishing accused clergy members’ names. [WSJ / Francis X. Rocca]

Australia reckons with a cyberattack

  • An unidentified foreign government is likely responsible for a hack of Australia’s major political parties and its parliament’s computer network, according to a statement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday. [NYT / Jamie Tarabay]
  • The Australian government was already investigating an attack on the parliament that occurred early February when it became aware, 10 days later, that the Liberal, Labor, and National parties had also been breached. [Al Jazeera]
  • Australia’s federal elections are coming up in May, but Morrison assured the country there had not been any electoral interference — even as the Australian Cyber Security Centre admitted it did not know what information had been stolen. [BBC News]
  • “A sophisticated state actor” is the culprit, according to Morrison, and many policy experts are pointing to China or Russia. The attack draws attention to the potential meddling (by at least one of those countries) in the 2016 US elections, and how this could be repeated. [TechCrunch / Jon Russell]
  • It’s also possible the responsible organization tried to mimic China to encourage Australian and foreign officials to point fingers. China has denied any role in the attack. [The Verge / Jon Porter]

Miscellaneous

  • Past presidents like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington have earned their place on national monuments — but history has shown that no president was a perfect leader. [NBC News / Ethan Sacks]
  • Public records about the Interior Department could be harder to access if a new rule the department has proposed is adopted. Under the rule, Interior would have more control over what information goes public and could limit how many documents one individual or an organization may view per month. [NPR / Nate Hegyi]
  • President Trump is expected to heighten support for Juan Guaidó as president of Venezuela on Monday. Pressure for President Nicolás Maduro to step down is mounting from the US, which has targeted sanctions against Venezuela’s valuable oil industry. [CNN / Jeremy Diamond]
  • Only one of the current Democratic presidential hopefuls is a heterosexual white man. Others may declare, but they all could have trouble accessing in-demand campaign talent and media attention — not to mention widespread support — as women and other minority candidates appeal to voters. [Politico / Bill Scher]
  • Millions of Nigerians were disappointed on Saturday when a last-minute decision delayed national presidential elections. Without an absentee voting system, many Nigerian citizens who had traveled or planned to travel to their home districts had to change plans when they found out they wouldn’t be voting. Nigeria’s current president, Muhammadu Buhari, is seeking his second consecutive term. [NYT/ Dionne Searcey and Emmanuel Akinwotu]

Verbatim

“What you do to children matters. And they might never forget.” [Excerpt from God Help the Child by Toni Morrison, who turns 88 years old today]


Watch this: American segregation, mapped at day and night

We work in diverse places. We live in segregated ones. [YouTube / Alvin Chang]


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