But there are possible explanations for all these oddities that don’t amount to a grand conspiracy to steal an election in exchange for, say, sanctions relief or recognition of Putin’s annexation of Crimea. Maybe the Russians forged connections to Trump’s team on the off-chance their efforts to elect him would work. Maybe the meetings themselves were a form of kompromat—because Moscow knew that revealing them would be embarrassing. Maybe different groups of Russians simply saw the same opportunity in Trump’s Russophilia and acted independently.
As for all the lying Trump’s associates did about their Russian contacts, you can imagine explanations for that too: Practiced liars tend to lie as a matter of habit. And maybe they they mistakenly thought they were trying to protect the president, and themselves. People make stupid and irrational decisions — especially under pressure.
We should all be aware of the dangers of confirmation bias: the bad habit of interpreting evidence to fit our pre-cooked conclusions. That’s been a major peril of the Russiagate story, and I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it on occasion. News outlets have undoubtedly hyped and torqued up stories about purported links between Trump and Russia that have evaporated on close inspection. Even carefully reported and cautiously written scoops have been subject to overheated interpretation once they landed on Twitter and cable news. (Baby cannon, anyone?)