You frequently hear Rudy Giuliani and other Trump supporters claim that “collusion is not a crime.” As I wrote in this post back in the summer of 2017, that claim is nothing but a smokescreen. It’s true there is no crime called collusion. There’s also no crime called “shooting someone until they’re dead” or “breaking into a house and stealing a laptop.” But of course that doesn’t mean those acts are not criminal – the crimes are called homicide and burglary. What matters in criminal law is what you do, not what label someone chooses to put on it.
Collusion is generally defined as joining with someone else to achieve some improper end. In criminal law we call that a conspiracy. The federal conspiracy statute prohibits two different types of conspiracies: conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Bob Mueller has already used both types of conspiracy charges in his cases against Russian actors for attempting to interfere with the 2016 election. In addition, a federal judge recently upheld the legal theory that Mueller used to charge Russian actors with conspiring to defraud the United States by improperly seeking to influence the election.
Recently I made this video for the Washington Post discussing collusion and the law of conspiracy:
If members of the Trump campaign or other Americans were involved with Russians seeking to influence the election, they could find themselves on the hook for the same kind of conspiracy with which Mueller has charged the Russians. Other conspiracies are possible as well, including a conspiracy to take government steps favorable to Russian interests in exchange for Russian actions that would either help Trump win the election or benefit Trump business interests, such as the Moscow towerTrump was negotiating over while he was campaigning for president. Any such deals could be described in non-legal terms as “collusion” – an agreement to do something improper.
It remains to be seen whether Mueller will bring any additional conspiracy indictments. But no one should be fooled by the continuing claims of Trump supporters that collusion is not a crime.
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