Nearly every day, it seems, analysts and reporters reveal new ties between American political figures and Russia or its leader, Vladimir Putin, and his political cronies.
The news is delivered in breathless tones with an air of suspicion.
There seems to be some confusion, because the following things are legal activities for Americans to do: Living in Russia, visiting Russia, talking to Russians, doing business in Russia and with Russians, consulting for Russia, advising Russia, having “ties” to Russia, lobbying for Russia, meeting with Russian leaders, “refusing to criticize Putin,” meeting with Russians connected to Putin, discussing politics with Russians, discussing U.S. policy and sanctions with Russians, consulting for the Russian government on political matters.
It’s true that certain conditions could make these activities illegal. For example, if an American works as a paid lobbyist for Russia but fails to register as a foreign agent, that violates U.S. law. If an American meets with a Russian spy for the purposes of committing a crime, that’s illegal, too.
But most of what’s being reported in sinister overtones is not only perfectly legal; thousands of Americans are doing much the same every day. There’s room for disagreement as to whether these things should be legal, but the fact is that — today — they are. Even “colluding” with Russia, or any country, isn’t necessarily illegal. It depends on the facts.
Without yet knowing the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Trump-Russia collusion, we have only the public evidence to date.
Former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about what appears to have been a legal conversation he had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
Two Trump associates, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, have been indicted by a grand jury for allegedly failing to report their lobbying work and avoiding paying taxes on its multimillion-dollar income. (It wasn’t Russia, it was Ukraine; and it was prior to their work on the Trump campaign, but close enough.)
In the absence of any public evidence implicating President Trump in illegal activities, much has been written about his and his associates’ “ties” to Russia, as if that is itself evidence of some sort of crime.
One such article in Time is entitled, “Donald Trump’s Many, Many, Many, Many Ties to Russia.” Three “many’s” obviously weren’t enough to convey the true depth of the “ties.” It took four.
It’s less easy to find comprehensive accounts denoting the Russian ties that some of Trump’s detractors have.
Here are just a few examples:
The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner (D-Va.), had extensive contact with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch to help connect with the author of the anti-Trump “dossier.” Warner reportedly texted at the time that he didn’t wish to “leave a paper trail.” Warner allegedly waited six months before disclosing the contacts to the committee, which is investigating Russia matters.
For Democrats, the “crimes” are only where they want them to be.