The ongoing federal probe into possible collaboration between Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russia seems to be causing a quandary over legal terms. At the forefront of this debate is Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani who said "collusion" isn't a crime. The attorney, who is no stranger to making regrettable remarks on air, made comments to Fox and Friends on Monday.
"I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime," Giuliani said to Fox and Friends. "Collusion is not a crime." For what it's worth, Giuliani is not alone in such proclamations; former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently echoed the same statement on ABC News. But the Associated Press' Anne Flaherty ran a fact-check on Giuliani's handwringing over "collusion" and said that while it's not necessarily a crime, that is "not exactly the point."
Flaherty stated that Giuliani is correct about collusion not being a de facto crime worthy of instant penalty. But she added that what goes into collusion — such as the possible bypassing of security protocol, computer hacking, voter exploitation, and conspiracy to attack the United States — can make it criminal activity. And all the more punishable.
When "collusion" is used as a term in the aforementioned federal investigation, its context matters. According to Flaherty, the word "collusion" refers to the particular laws that govern a president's campaign, its financing, and the nature of other activities it participates in. In this case, "collusion" would be illegal if a member of Trump's presidential campaign is found guilty of collaborating with Russian hackers to access the Democratic National Committee's servers.
Giuliani's remarks about collusion not being a crime came only a day after Trump tweeted about the FBI investigation concerning his presidential campaign. The president has, so far, denied accusations of collusion with Russia as false. On Sunday, Trump tweeted, "There is no collusion! The Robert Mueller rigged witch hunt headed now by 17 (increased from 13, including an [Barack] Obama White House lawyer) angry Democrats, was started by a fraudulent dossier, paid for by Crooked Hillary [Clinton], and the Democratic National Committee. Therefore, the witch hunt is an illegal scam!"
Later on as he spoke with Alisyn Camerota on CNN, Giuliani reiterated his point. "Four months, they're not going to be colluding with Russia, which I don't even know if that's a crime, colluding about Russians," he said. "You start analyzing the crime — the hacking is the crime ... The president didn't hack."
While Giuliani went back and forth over "collusion," an unexpected rebuttal came from another anchor on Fox News: Shepard Smith. Smith called Giuliani's point about "collusion" a "straw man argument." The Fox News news host said, "Giuliani is essentially making a straw man argument and it is deceptive. While the United States criminal code does not criminalize colluding, per se, it is a crime to conspire with a foreign adversary to influence or undermine our election or any other government action."
"Special counsel prosecutors," Smith added, "have gotten indictments against more than 20 Russians, three Russian companies, and several former Trump campaign members, including guilty pleas from a foreign policy adviser and a national security adviser."
If you look at Smith and Flaherty's remarks, it seems clear that the issue is not the word "collusion" itself but the significant context that it is being used in. Like Flaherty wrote for AP, "'Collusion' might be shorthand. But if it relates to Russia and U.S. elections, it can still be very much against the law."