Under Oath, Trump Would Not Say There Was No Collusion

Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election began all the way back in 2017. Since that time, Donald Trump has stated well over 200 times that there was “No Collusion” between his campaign and Russia.

Yet, when he was questioned by Mueller’s team regarding circumstances where there may have been coordinated effort between his associates and Russians, Trump didn’t assert that this collusion didn’t happen. In fact, in response to 29 specific questions related to potential collusion between Russia and his campaign, Trump made only one outright denial — mostly claiming to have “no recollection” of the situation.

Specifically, while Mueller’s overall investigation centered on the two issues of collusion and obstruction, within the matter of collusion itself, there were also two central issues or events. These two issues are: 1) Russian interference in the election through hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) email server, and releasing some of those emails through Wikileaks, and 2) Russian interference in the election through social media (especially by promoting Trump and disparaging Hillary Clinton on Facebook and Twitter).

In each of these issues (email “hacking and dumping” and social media interference) Mueller asked Trump about particular instances where coordinated effort might have occurred between Trump associates and the Russians. Trump’s responses are illuminating.

On the issue of email hacking and dumping, Trump associate/political consultant Roger Stone was reported to be in contact with Wikileaks, and he may have coordinated the release of the stolen emails. (Stone was indicted as a result of Mueller’s work, and his trial is still pending.)

By obtaining phone records, Mueller knew that Trump spoke with Stone several times while this was happening. It should be noted that Stone’s specialty as a political consultant is opposition research (read: finding “dirt” on political opponents). Therefore, it is an obvious conclusion that Trump discussed any potential “dirt” on the Clinton campaign with Stone — that was Stone’s specialty, and the reason for their political relationship. And since it appears (according to the Washington Post) that Stone knew about Russian hacking into The Democratic National Committee’s server, and he was possibly coordinating the release of stolen emails, it is similarly obvious that this is what he would discuss with Trump.

Thus, if Trump’s political consultant Roger Stone worked with the Russians (or an intermediary) to coordinate the release of stolen emails, this is clearly “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia. And if Trump discussed this with Stone (again, what else would they discuss — this was the reason for their relationship?) then Trump was part of the collusion.

At the time Mueller released his report, he was unable to prove that this collusion existed, but he handed off the prosecution of Stone to federal prosecutors, who charged Stone with seven crimes including obstruction, making false statements, and witness tampering.

If Trump’s political consultant Roger Stone (who is currently awaiting trial for obstruction, false statements, and witness tampering) worked with the Russians or an intermediary to coordinate the release of stolen emails, this is clearly “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Mueller asked, in written questions to Trump, 17 specific questions about Russian email hacking and its release. Despite his public insistence that no collusion occurred, Trump did not deny any of these matters — including when he was asked if he knew about Russia’s plans to hack in to the DNC. Instead he answered, “I do not recall/remember,” to almost all of these questions.

In regard to social media interference, Trump’s Campaign Manager Paul Manafort assisted the Russians by providing a substantial amount of polling data. Mueller, having no power to investigate inside Russia, could not prove how, or if, the Russians used the data, and therefore he couldn’t prove a “criminal conspiracy” here.

This polling data, provided by Manafort, would have helped the Russians target their social media efforts for the greatest effect. For instance, the Russians targeted swing states such as Florida and Pennsylvania, where their efforts could be of the greatest benefit to Trump, and greatest harm to Clinton.

One result of Russia’s effort was the infamous rally in support of Trump in Florida which was initiated by Russian operatives, and which prompted Trump to respond on Twitter (unknowingly to a Russian intelligence agent) “TOGETHER, WE WILL MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” (Mueller Report, Pt. 1, pp. 31–34)

Polling data, provided by Manafort, would have helped the Russians target their social media efforts for the greatest effect. But Mueller, having no power to investigate inside Russia, could not prove how, or if, the Russians used the data, and therefore he couldn’t prove collusion.

Mueller questioned Trump (in writing) about specific issues involving Manafort, and in this case (as with Russian hacking and email dumping) Trump did not refute that there was coordinated effort. To nearly every question, he responded that he couldn’t remember what happened.

What Trump Told Mueller

Appendix C of the Mueller Report describes the Special Counsel’s attempts to set up an interview with the President, and the eventual written questions and answers which were an accommodation to the President and his team’s objections to an interview.

It now appears that his refusal to testify in person under oath was simply because, in his own words, “They were looking to get us for lies, for slight misstatements,” and his team knew that is precisely what would happen.

Trailing desperately in polls, Trump pleaded publicly with Russia to interfere in the election on his behalf. Russia did so, and when Trump was questioned by Mueller about his plea for Russian help, Trump said, “I was joking.”

Interestingly, the Special Counsel found Trump’s written answers to be “inadequate.” Mueller writes: “the President stated on more than 30 occasions that he ‘does not recall or remember or have an independent recollection’ of information called for by the questions.” (Mueller Report, page C-1) Yet, Mueller failed to resolve this by insisting on an in-person interview, even though one of his primary objectives was to learn about Trump’s involvement in election interference.

Still, looking at Trump’s written answers to these questions is illuminating.

Mueller devotes an entire section of his questioning to the crucial issue of email hacking and dumping, asking Trump 17 questions about it. Remarkably, though Trump publicly takes every opportunity to state that there was no collusion, he did no such thing here. Of these 17 questions, he answered that he didn’t remember/recall to 14 and evasively to 2 others. The only informative factual answer he gave was in response to a question about his whereabouts on a certain day — an answer which Mueller would have already known.

These questions get to the core of Trump’s knowledge of “collusion” — asking what Trump knew about Russian hacking activities, Roger Stone’s and Wikileaks’ involvement, and why, in a campaign speech in 2016, Trump specifically pleaded with Russia to find and release some of Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Incredibly, instead of his usual public statements in which he adamantly claimed that there was no collusion, Trump would like prosecutors to believe that he has very little recollection of anything that happened during the 2016 campaign.

Below are a brief summary of Mueller’s questions, followed by Trump’s answers, with some commentary added to selected issues.

Question 1: “Did you know about Russian plans to hack the DNC…”

  • “I do not remember… To the best of my recollection… I do not remember…”

Questions 2–3, regarding Wikileaks release of 20,000 Democratic party emails and whether Trump knew about it beforehand, or knew if they had more emails to release later.

  • “I have no recollection of any particular conversation…”

Question 4, regarding whether Trump knew about any communications between people associated with his campaign and Wikileaks, or anyone associated with Russian hacking and leaking.

  • “I do not recall being aware…”

Questions 5–7, regarding his plea to Russia, during a speech, to find and release the ‘30,000 missing emails’ which he says were deleted from the Clintons’ server. Specifically, Mueller asked why Trump asked Russia — as opposed to any other person or country — to find them, and if he discussed this issue with anyone prior to his speech, and whether he was told that Russia was trying to hack the Clintons’ computer systems.

  • “5) I was joking…6) I do not recall, 7) I do not recall…”

Commentary: This is remarkable. If Trump didn’t know about Russsian hacking beforehand, why not just say so, instead of ‘I don’t recall?’

Questions 8–10, regarding Wikileaks’ release of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails on October 7, 2016. This is the same day that the infamous ‘Access Hollywood’ tape was released, in which Trump bragged about committing sexual assault. The questions are: where were you, did you know about this email release beforehand, and were you aware of conversations between people associated with your campaign and the hackers/leakers?)

  • “8) I was at Trump Tower, 9) I have no recollection, 10) I have no recollection.”

Question 11, regarding if Trump had any discussion about any entity such as Wikileaks with hacked emails, and the content of the emails or the timing of the release.

  • “I do not recall.”

Commentary: again, if he wasn’t part of, or unaware of this collusion, why not just say so? This is incredible. This was the single biggest event of the 2016 election — the release of thousands of stolen Democratic emails on the same day a tape is released in which Trump boasts about sexual assault. If Trump was involved, he would likely remember it. And if he wasn’t involved — if it came as a surprise to him on the single most memorable day of the campaign — he would most likely remember the surprise.

This question speaks directly to the issue of coordination/collusion in election interference — if Trump discussed the release of Russian-hacked emails by Wikileaks. Incredibly, publicly he has taken every opportunity to state that there was no collusion between himself and Russia. But when given the opportunity, under oath, to state that he was not involved in the discussions (and therefore participating in collusion) he says: “I do not recall.”

Questions 12–15, regarding communication/phone calls with Roger Stone between June 1, 2016 and the end of the campaign.

  • “I talked with him from time to time… I have no recollection…I do not recall.”

Commentary: Trump remembers talking with him from time to time, but doesn’t remember anything they talked about? Note that Trump may only have admitted to talking with him because Stone has been indicted, and Trump knows that prosecutors know that they talked during this time.

This is crucial because the Mueller Report makes it clear that Stone knew about, and possibly helped orchestrate Russian interference in the election by releasing hacked emails through Wikileaks. If Trump knew about this and discussed it with Stone, he was part of the collusion, and therefore he ‘colluded’ with Russia. Trump — although, when not under oath, says there was no collusion to anyone who will listen — didn’t deny this when questioned under oath.

Note that elsewhere (below) he did deny something specifically and directly, and so he didn’t merely deny recalling everything. He was capable of saying, under oath, ‘I didn’t know about this,’ he just doesn’t do so here, despite his many public proclamations.

Question 16, regarding if he had any discussions about a potential pardon for Wikileaks’ leader Julian Assange, who was in hiding in the Ecuadorean embassy at the time, and wanted for crimes in several countries, including the U.S.

  • “I do not recall…”

Commentary: this is a very specific issue. If Trump was not involved in it, why not just simply say so?

Question 17, regarding if he was aware of Russia’s assistance to his campaign through social media.

  • “I do not recall…”

Commentary: again, it seems incredible. Russia was — and is — a rival foreign country, who Trump had specifically asked for help in interfering in the election (though he says he was joking about it). It seems incredibly unlikely that he would “not recall” if they were, in fact, providing assistance to his campaign.

“I do not remember being aware…” summarizes what Trump wants Mueller and Congress to believe about his memory of the 2016 election campaign.

As can be seen above, of the three questions Trump did answer, two of them were in regard to issues to which Mueller would have already known the answers. These are 1) his whereabouts on October 7, 2016 (the day that the infamous ‘Access Hollywood’ tape was released, in which Trump bragged about committing sexual assault) and 2) if he had any conversations with Roger Stone between June 1, 2016 and the end of the election (at the time Stone may have been coordinating the release of stolen Democratic emails).

To these, Trump answered: 1) he was at Trump Tower — which Mueller very likely knew from his investigation, and 2) “I talked with him from time… I have no recollection” of anything we talked about. This is really a non-answer, as if to say, “I talked to him now and then, but have no idea what we talked about.” Essentially Trump is saying, in the midst of a very busy (Trump’s own description) presidential campaign, he took time “from time to time” to have multiple conversations with someone who specialized in opposition research (disparaging one’s opponent) but it was of so little significance that he has “no recollection” of it.

The third answer that Trump was able to recollect (from his very non-memorable 2016) was: ‘I was joking.’ This was in response to Mueller’s question about why he pleaded to Russia, to find and release some of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Russia actually “found” (read: hacked) some of Clinton’s campaign members’ emails and released them, with the same results that Trump desired (trouble, dissension, distraction, and unfavorable news coverage for Clinton’s campaign). To summarize this question/issue:

  • First, trailing desperately in polls, Trump pleaded publicly with Russia to interfere in the election on his behalf.
  • Second, Russia did so, in a similar — though not exact — method that Trump had begged them to do.
  • Third, with the help of, and possibly as a result of Russian interference, Trump won the election (remember that Trump lost the popular vote, but won enough swing states by a few thousand votes — states where Russia was actively interfering on his behalf — to win the electoral college).
  • When questioned by Mueller about his plea for Russian help, Trump said, “I was joking.” And when asked if he knew about Russia’s plans to hack in to the DNC’s email server, he didn’t deny it, he said: “I do not remember… To the best of my recollection… I do not remember…”

Again, instead of his usual outright denials of collusion, when confronted with the specific circumstances in which collusion may have taken place, Trump did not deny that there was collusion, he just claimed to not remember anything about the circumstances, and that he was joking when he asked for Russia’s help to win the election.

Looking at a concise list of Trump’s responses here draws a sharp contrast with the certainty of his frequent proclamations that there was “no collusion.”

  • “I do not remember… To the best of my recollection… I do not remember…”
  • “I have no recollection of any particular conversation…”
  • “I do not recall being aware…”
  • “I was joking… I do not recall, I do not recall…”
  • “I was at Trump Tower… I have no recollection… I have no recollection.”
  • “I do not recall.”
  • “I talked with him from time to time… I have no recollection…I do not recall.”
  • “I do not recall…”
  • “I do not recall…”

Taking Trump’s answers at face value (i.e., imagining that they are true), it appears that Trump wants us to believe that he remembers almost nothing about 2016.

Mueller asked Trump 12 questions about his campaign’s contacts with Russia, (especially involving Paul Manafort) during the 2016 campaign. Trump ignored 2, claimed to have no recollection of 8 others, gave one evasive answer, and interestingly made one outright denial — the only specific denial of 29 questions from Mueller regarding collusion.

Here again, these questions were directed at learning what Trump knew about Russia’s interference activities, and potential collusion between Russia and his campaign — especially his campaign manager Paul Manafort, who gave the Russians Republican polling information, and is now in prison as a result of crimes uncovered by Mueller’s team.

And once again, if Trump had no knowledge of any of this, it would be simple and easy for him to categorically and emphatically deny it — as he often does in public, stating “no collusion,” at every opportunity.

Instead, here is what Trump said about potential collusion with Russia involving social media interference in the election:

Questions 1–2, asking if Trump was aware of Paul Manafort’s ties to Russia.

  • “I learned that he was somehow involved with individuals concerning Ukraine, but I do not remember the specifics of what I knew at the time.”

Commentary: This is of crucial importance as well in the potential “collusion” to interfere with the election by Russia and the Trump campaign. Russia was widely condemned for annexing the Crimea — part of the Ukraine — in 2014. the Obama administration sanctioned Russia for this, and Hillary Clinton — unlike Trump — took a very hard line toward Russia. In the past, Manafort had worked with pro-Russian Ukrainians, and maintained contact with at least one person who was connected to Russian intelligence. Manafort supplied polling data to this person repeatedly, and this data could have been an important part of Russian social media interference in the election — disparaging Clinton, and benefiting Trump.

For Russia, the benefit of this was the potential end of sanctions begun by the Obama administration (with Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State). Vladimir Putin famously acknowledged (at the Helsinki summit in 2017) that he wanted Trump to win the election, to normalize Russia-U.S. relations.

Question 3, asking if Trump was aware Manafort offered briefings to Russian businessman (and friend of Putin) Oleg Deripaska.

  • “I had no knowledge of Mr. Manafort offering briefings…”

Commentary: here, an unusual direct denial, instead of the usual, “I do not recall…” This makes one wonder why Trump wasn’t willing to deny knowledge of all these other circumstances related to collusion. In other words, if Trump can say with certainty that he had no knowledge of Manafort’s briefings with this individual, why is he afraid to say he had no knowledge of Russian hacking, or Roger Stone’s work with Wikileaks, or Russian social media interference?

Question 4, asking if Trump was aware that Manafort (or anyone) was sharing Trump campaign information with anyone associated with Russia or Ukraine.

  • “I do not remember being aware…”

Commentary: contrast this with the previous answer, saying he had no knowledge of Manafort’s briefings. If Trump only found out after the fact that Manafort was sharing information with the Russians — information that could aid their interference in the election — why not just say so?

Question 5, asking if Manafort told him about any positions Ukraine or Russia would want the U.S. to support.

  • “I do not remember…”

Commentary: Russia was a prominent topic throughout the 2016 campaign. And Trump doesn’t remember if his Campaign Manager (Manafort) told him what they wanted?

Put differently, if his Campaign Manager, one day, said: “Here’s what our rival the Russians (or China, or Iran, or North Korea) want…” it seems like that’s something that he would remember. Unless his memory loss, or prevarication, is very severe.

Question 6, asking if Trump was told about efforts by Russian officials to meet with him during the campaign.

  • “I do not recall…”

Questions 7–9, regarding a puzzling and remarkable change in July 2016 to the Republican party platform, amending it to state that they would not provide arms to the anti-Russian Ukraine.

  • “I have no recollection…”

Commentary: what did the Russians get for helping Trump win the election? Here is one thing. In 2012, the Republican party platform under Mitt Romney identified Russia as the biggest threat to America. Delegates to the Republican party convention in July 2016 wanted to add language to the platform in support of providing “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine to assist them against “ongoing military aggression” by Russia.

The Mueller Report describes how mysteriously, this support was removed from the platform, despite the insistence of Campaign Policy Director John Mashburn that it remain. Mueller devotes about 5 pages of the Report to this issue, without concluding why this change occurred. It should be noted that Mueller did not find any evidence that Trump was part of this decision. (Mueller Report, Pt. 1, pp. 123–127)

Trump, here, states he has “no recollection” of this issue.

Questions 10–12, regarding lifting sanctions on Russia and recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea — specifically Trump’s statement on July 27, 2016 that “we’ll be looking at” doing so.

  • “My statement did not communicate any position.” (Trump ignored the last of these 2 questions).

Here, Trump, ignores, evades, or says he can’t remember the pertinent details regarding 11 of Mueller’s 12 questions. The one denial (Question 3) is itself fascinating. If Trump was able and willing to fearlessly deny this one specific instance which was indicative of collusion, why wouldn’t he have the courage to clearly and categorically deny over 20 others? He does it all the time on Twitter and through the media, when he isn’t under oath.

Again, it appears that Trump wants us to believe that he remembers almost nothing about 2016. Another possible explanation is that Trump is not telling the truth.

“I Do Not Remember the Specifics of What I Knew…” — Donald Trump

Once again, a concise list of Trump’s responses draws a sharp contrast with the certainty of his frequent assertions. To questions which addressed collusion with Russian interference in the 2016 election through social media, Trump said:

  • “I do not remember the specifics of what I knew at the time.”
  • “I had no knowledge of Mr. Manafort offering briefings…”
  • “I do not remember being aware…”
  • “I do not remember…”
  • “I do not recall…”
  • “I have no recollection…”
  • “My statement did not communicate any position.”

In summary, Trump would like everyone to believe that when it comes to Russian interference in the 2016 election, he does not remember the specifics of what he knew at the time.

What Trump Wants You to Believe, According to his Answers to Mueller’s Questions: (Trump does not Recall Any of 2016)

In public and on Twitter, Trump is firmly committed to a simple narrative regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential cooperation by his campaign: “no collusion.”

While he has never wavered from his commitment to this narrative in public, why wouldn’t he say the same while under oath? Here are some obvious ideas why:

  1. He has no problem lying when there are little or no consequences. 10,000 times since taking office, according to The Washington Post, which cites an amazing 23 lies a day at one time.
  2. He knows that lying under oath is different. Specifically, he knows that Mueller has caught over a half dozen of his associates for lies, fraud, and obstruction.

Once again, in Trump’s own words, “They were looking to get us for lies, for slight misstatements,” and his team knew that is precisely what would happen.

So, while he has no problem lying when not under oath, he knows that like several members of his campaign and administration, he can go to prison and lose his job if he lies (to Mueller) under oath.

In the case of Manafort, Trump seems to be off the hook, at least unless/until Manafort is offered a huge book deal (Manafort’s motivation, all along, has been riches, or “monetizing” his relationship to Trump, as he told Mueller (Mueller Report, Pt. 1, p. 141). But Manafort owes millions of dollars to a Ukrainian businessman — Oleg Deripaska, mentioned above — and now, Mueller’s team has seized over $20 million in assets from him, so Manafort may be desperate for money.

Mueller/prosecutors couldn’t prove it (yet), but Trump’s own words seem to indicate that there was collusion between Russia and his campaign.

The case of Roger Stone is a different matter. Two of his “associates,” according to the Washington Post, have said he was in contact with Wikileaks. This could be the “coordination” that congress wanted Mueller to look for. As a result of Mueller’s investigation, Stone has been indicted on charges of giving false statements, obstruction, and witness tampering, and will be prosecuted by federal attorneys. Testimony from Stone, if he cooperates, or evidence from this trial could provide the evidence of collusion that Mueller couldn’t find.

Apparently Trump’s team knows this. Otherwise, if it were true — or if his statements couldn’t be disproven, he would have just told Mueller, “there was no collusion,” like he does when there is no consequences for lying.

The only reasonable conclusion for why Trump didn’t tell Mueller that there was no collusion, is because it is most likely a lie.

The Mueller Report makes it clear that the Special Counsel was unable to prove that a criminal conspiracy or “collusion” had occurred, despite circumstances which point in that direction. And in trials against over a half dozen of Trump’s associates, federal prosecutors still haven’t been able to prove it (yet).

But Trump’s own words — in contrast to his public assertions — seem to strongly indicate that there was collusion between Russia and his campaign.

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