In an interview with USA Today, Hillary Clinton says she’s “convinced” that Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election.
“There certainly was communication and there certainly was an understanding of some sort,” Clinton told USA TODAY Monday in a far-ranging interview about her new book, What Happened. “Because there’s no doubt in my mind that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin wanted me to lose and wanted Trump to win. And there’s no doubt in my mind that there are a tangle of financial relationships between Trump and his operation with Russian money. And there’s no doubt in my mind that the Trump campaign and other associates have worked really hard to hide their connections with Russians.”
Does she believe there was collusion by Trump associates?
“I’m convinced of it,” she said, though she stopped short of repeating that explosive word. “I happen to believe in the rule of law and believe in evidence, so I’m not going to go off and make all kinds of outrageous claims. But if you look at what we’ve learned since (the election), it’s pretty troubling.”
There’s a vast gulf of difference between “I”m convinced” and “It’s pretty troubling.” Over at the Washington Post, Aaron Blake points out that other Democrats, even those like Adam Schiff who have made a 2nd career out of collusion accusations, have hesitated to go too far with this:
The idea that Trump may have colluded with Russia is certainly on the tip of many Democrats’ tongues, but most have been more circumspect than Clinton. The lead Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), for example, has said there is “circumstantial” evidence of collusion, but has added: “I’m not prepared to say that there’s proof you could take to a jury.” Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the lead Democrat in the Senate’s Russia investigation, has said there is “clear evidence” that Trump officials tried to get information from Russians but that there is a lot of smoke but no smoking gun. When Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) suggested Donald Trump Jr. may have committed treason or perjury, his office was quick to clarify that nothing was proved yet.
The trouble for Democrats is in getting over their skis. If they push too hard and argue that there was definitely collusion, and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III finds none, it risks strengthening Trump and making Democrats look like conspiracy theorists.
As Blake points out, there have been a lot of these back and forth statements over the past six months, first suggesting proof of collusion was close at hand then admitting no one has seen such proof. The Donald Trump Jr. meeting at Trump Tower with Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya was going to be a smoking gun. But last week Politico reported a review of Manfort’s notes showed no evidence of collusion.
Does Hillary know something the rest of us do not? That’s a possibility I suppose. After decades in Washington, the Clintons must have back-channel connections to the FBI, the NSA, etc. Maybe Hillary has heard rumors. Maybe she can’t say what she knows without getting herself or someone else in trouble. Maybe.
But as it stands, Hillary isn’t describing “what happened” she’s offering unsupported speculation. That’s the kind of thing the media fact-checkers are usually eager to jump on. As Hillary continues her book tour, she should be asked to defend this claim with some evidence or else retract it.