The light at the end of the Russia-collusion tunnel may well be an actual light and an end to the tunnel after all. NBC News reported this morning that the bipartisan and largely effective investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee will shortly come to an end without any “direct evidence” of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Their report will likely come out in the fall, but don’t expect any smoking guns, Senate Democrats warn NBC, even if it paints some Trump campaign officials as dupes or opportunists:
After two years and 200 interviews, the Senate Intelligence Committee is approaching the end of its investigation into the 2016 election, having uncovered no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee. …
Democratic Senate investigators say it may take them six or seven months to write their final report once they are done with witness interviews. They say they 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 U.S. presidential election with the help of some Trump officials, witting or unwitting.
The report, Democrats say, will not be good for Trump.
But they also made clear they haven’t found proof of their worst fear: That the president formed a corrupt pact with Russia to offer sanctions relief or other favorable treatment in return for Russian help in the election.
That will essentially be the ballgame. Having set the expectations bar at direct and outright collusion, anything less will be an anti-climax. One unnamed Senate Democrat tried to spin that with the glib comment that “we were never going find a contract signed in blood saying, ‘Hey Vlad, we’re going to collude,'” but people expected them to find actual evidence of collusion after having Democrats talking incessantly about it since the day after Trump won election. If all they come up with is that the Trump campaign had a few scuzzy figures in it, well, we already knew that much.
This will sting all the more because the Senate Intel Committee has been widely seen as much more professional and serious than the dumpster-fire investigation conducted by their House counterpart. Now that Adam Schiff’s in charge, the White House can expect a blizzard of subpoenas and provocative allegations, but this suggests he won’t have much to find. Not that it’s stopping Schiff, who told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press this Sunday that “corrupt coordination” between Russia and the the Trump campaign has already been proven:
You know, we are trying to work collaboratively with the Senate. But, look, I think when the president says there’s no collusion, what he means is, “Bob Mueller has not yet proven beyond a reasonable doubt that I am guilty of the crime of conspiracy.” Well, that’s a pretty high bar. But when people say there’s no collusion, they must have a different word for the kind of corrupt coordination of effort between the Trump campaign and the Russians because when Mike Flynn was secretly talking to the Russian ambassador, and trying to undermine bipartisan sanctions on Russia and lying about it, that was a form of collusion. When the Trump family and campaign manager were meeting in Trump Tower to get dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of what was offered as the Russian government effort to help the campaign, that was a form of collusion. When the president himself and his business are trying to make money from the Russians and get Russian help during the campaign, and promising — or — a new relationship with Russia, and talking about doing away with sanctions, that’s a form of collusion. It’s certainly a form of corrupt combination. But ultimately, it’ll be up to Mueller to determine if that’s a crime.
Horse puckey, writes James Freeman at the Wall Street Journal. Schiff’s been claiming to have actual evidence of collusion for two years and still hasn’t produced it, not even as the House Intel chair. Freeman also called out Todd for not pressing Schiff to deliver on those claims:
Almost two full years after Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) told NBC he had seen “more than circumstantial evidence” that associates of Donald Trump had colluded with Russia to rig the 2016 election, the network not only welcomed him back without demanding that he finally produce the evidence to support his claim. NBC gave him a platform to make new allegations. …
This seemed to be the moment for Mr. Todd to demand that Mr. Schiff, who is now chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, finally produce the evidence he has long claimed to have seen. But instead Mr. Todd simply asked Mr. Schiff to “explain the parameters of your investigation, where you’ve expanded. How far back into his finances do you plan to look?”
Without defending his earlier claim, Mr. Schiff proceeded to explain how he was now setting off in search of evidence of “a different form of collusion,” perhaps involving the President’s finances. The theory seems to be that Mr. Trump was focused on closing a sweet deal to develop a Moscow hotel. Your humble correspondent is not the first to note that there are probably easier and cheaper ways to secure corrupt real estate deals than to get elected President of the United States.
In other words, there’s a whole lot of goalpost-shifting going on with Schiff, who must have been apprised of the Senate Intel’s conclusions. Schiff wants to keep changing the parameters of “collusion” in order justify his own Javertian ambitions. This will cut the legs out from underneath Schiff, however, and his explanation to Todd strongly suggests that he knows the jig is up.
That still leaves Robert Mueller and his special counsel probe as a last resort for collusion-theory advocates. No one knows for sure what Mueller might have found, but the Senate Intel’s probe has been pretty exhaustive and it came up empty. Furthermore, despite a blizzard of indictments, not one charge in any of them shows a connection between Russian intelligence and the Trump campaign — and that includes the indictments against Russian intelligence assets, both individuals and corporate entities. NBC notes that sources have been saying that Mueller’s about to wrap up too, and it seems without filing a single charge of “collusion” against anyone.
Senate Democrats are almost assuredly correct that the report still won’t paint Trump in a good light. When this wraps up, though, no one will look very good.