How “Collusion” Appears in the Mueller Report

Because it has been my hobby for the last 2 years, let me remind you that what law enforcement authorities have been investigating — with regards to the efforts of Donald Trump and his associates to optimize Russia’s efforts to help Trump get elected — has been conspiracy, not collusion. To show that Mueller’s report does not comment on whether Trump “colluded” with Russia, I’m going to show how the word “collusion” appears in it.

Table of contents

Mueller was so determined to make this point clear he dedicated an entire section to saying he did not investigate “collusion.”

Not “collusion”

On page 2 — page 2!! — of the report, Mueller explains they didn’t investigate “collusion,” but instead investigated “conspiracy” and “coordination,” a point I’ve been making for years.

Not “collusion,” but conspiracy

Then there’s the dedicated section where Mueller explains their prosecutorial decisions were not about “collusion,” but about conspiracy.

Trump’s gaslighting about the word “collusion”

Aside from those legal comments, the vast majority of the references to “collusion” in the report catalogue Trump’s usage of the term, such as this description of Trump telling his PDB briefers there was no “collusion.”


There’s the description of how Trump claimed there was no “collusion” in some of the 8 conversations he had with Steve Bannon in advance of firing Jim Comey.

There are the mad tweets claiming there was no “collusion.”

Yet more mad tweets claiming no “collusion.”

And still more mad tweets claiming no “collusion.”

And more tweets about “collusion.”

Still more batshit tweets about “collusion.”

And still more batshit tweets about “collusion.”

The “collusion” tweets suffer from no limits of market scarcity.

Trump’s lawyers repeat the “collusion” frame

Then there’s the one citation of Trump’s lawyers addressing “collusion” as opposed to something illegal.

Why would you report on Trump claiming no “collusion”?

Then there’s this reference to a journalist reporting on Trump claiming no “collusion.”

Shitty reporting using the term “collusion”

Finally, there is a single reference to reporting using the term “collusion” on the day Comey said they were not investigating that. [shakes head at the headline writers]

In other words, the references to “collusion” in the Mueller Report fall, generally, into two categories. A legal discussion explaining why Mueller was not investigating “collusion.” And a catalogue of the instances where Trump and his surrogates denied that he was guilty of that non-crime.

emptywheel’s Mueller Report coverage

The Significance of Trump’s Obstruction of Investigation of His Family’s Campaign Finance Crimes, Plural

How “Collusion” Appears in the Mueller Report

Putin’s Ghost: The Counterintelligence Calculus Not Included in the Obstruction Analysis

Working Twitter Threads on the Mueller Report

The Trump Men and the Grand Jury Redactions

Mueller’s Language about “Collusion,” Coordination, and Conspiracy

The Many Lies and Prevarications of Bill Barr

46 replies
  1. Rugger9 says:

    I’ve seen it mentioned that now that Kaiser Quisling feels vindicated he will let the freak flag fly at full staff.

    Cummings, Schiff and Nadler will be taking notes and holding hearings that KQ and the Palace can’t stop. AFAIK, DJTJ is not a formal member of the Palace (like Jarvanka) and so I doubt he’ll get away with an executive privilege gambit (of course, he’ll try). It remains to be seen how many minions will be summoned to the various committees but as I noted before sunshine is the best disinfectant (IIRC SCOTUS Justice Felix Frankfurter).

    So, I would expect hearings all summer and an impeachment vote in the fall once all of the dirt is laid bare. Whether it is early or late fall depends upon the various court actions as the Palace tries to duck their obligations under the law. Even Steny would have to go along once the evidence is out there. Neal Katyal said it today, why do the Mueller report if you won’t impeach?

    This also forces the GOP weasels into votes they know will crush them in 2020, whether it is risking their nominations in the primaries or getting crushed for selling out to the Russians in the general election.

  2. P J Evans says:

    Tr*mp was going on about “no collusion” this weekend. Apparently they can’t get through to him that “collusion” isn’t actually what was being investigated. (Apparently they can’t get through to him, period.)

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Trump has used marketing puffery since he learned to walk (he has lost the art of walking). Trump knows the difference between a lie and a non-lie, at least when the topic is close to his heart, like staying out of jail. Not that he’s reluctant to lie about his crimes, just that he has a way to avoid it here.

      Trump’s handlers also know that “collusion” is the colloquial term they have used incessantly for two years. They will keep at it to rile their base, to convince them that an impeachment or other inquiry is illegitimate, and that imposing any consequence on Trump is political payback for working so hard and so diligently for his Base.

      That’s more hogwash than there is in all of North Carolina, but it’s their hogwash and they’re gonna lie in it.

  3. droopy says:

    ot, but since I only consume Twitter via public web and don’t have an account this seems like as good a place as any to say:
    I’m glad you’re back, bmaz.

  4. bacchys says:

    I don’t often comment, but I’ve been a big fan since I first found Empty Wheel.

    Mueller didn’t investigate for “collusion,” as he says, but he lays out an awful lot of collusion in the report.


    is chock full of it. While Mueller didn’t find enough evidence to establish coordination between Russia’s efforts on Trump’s behalf and Trump’s campaign, nor did they establish conspiracy between those parties with respect to Russia’s Information Operations efforts, he certainly found a lot of secret discussion regarding U.S.’s policies towards Russia and how that might change under a Trump Administration. That fits “collusion” as I understand it.

  5. JD12 says:

    I think Mueller made a mistake by letting Trump run wild on what was basically a “collusion” strawman for two years. I’m not saying he needed a Ken Starr-type media strategy, but Trump’s nonstop “no collusion” nonsense and the media’s coverage of it are what caused expectations to get out of hand. (It didn’t help that some reporters were unable grasp the subject they were reporting on.) Just one press conference or press release from Mueller explaining the purpose of his investigation, putting it in layman’s terms for the public, would’ve helped a lot.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Mueller had no way to inhibit the president’s “communications” strategy. He was smart enough not to be drawn into a public debate about non-crimes when he had other work to do. Patrick Fitzgerald and IC/SCs – apart from Ken Starr – would have walked a similar path.

    • Rayne says:

      I don’t know about Marcy or bmaz but I think Waas pointed to the piece I couldn’t see in May 2017 when I noted the fishy timing of Sally Yates’ firing and the Muslim travel ban. Scroll down to the timeline in my post — remember that DHS had been completely surprised by the EO ordering the ban, we didn’t even have a Secretary of State yet, and the White House sprung the ban on a Friday for immediate implementation with no advance discussion about integrating the ban into DHS’ frontline for enforcement.

      It was as if the travel ban had been used to hide whatever was going on with Flynn, and the ban then used as an excuse to keep Yates from pressing the White House any further on his removal.

      I couldn’t help wonder at the time what was so critical in those first four to six weeks in office that Team Trump took such drastic, chaotic actions?

      And of course, McGahn must have told Trump about Yates’ concerns regarding Flynn. Waas notes how very specific McGahn said he was, and that Trump lied about it.

      Again, what was so critical at that point in time?

  6. orionATL says:

    well, if the special counsel repeatedly makes a noisy point that he did not investigate collusion, then i take that as an open invitation by Counsel to use that term to describe Donald trump’s interactions with the Russians, informed as we are by the basic stats that there were >100 interactions between trump&co. and Russians.

    as an aside, I am really curious about the interaction between trump&co. and Russian “emigrees”, the term used for russians who have immigrated to the u.s. and become citizens, permanent Visa holders, etc. I think some of these were at least involved in the trump inaugural activities, but I’ve wondered if some may have functioned as quiet go-be-tweens trump and putin.

    • orionATL says:

      collusion [kuh-loo-zhuhn] noun

      a secret agreement, especially for fraudulent or treacherous purposes; conspiracy:Some of his employees were acting in collusion to rob him.

      Law . a secret understanding between two or more persons to gain somethingillegally, to defraud another of his or her rights, or to appear as adversaries thoughin agreement:collusion of husband and wife to obtain a divorce.


      – Every 10 years, after the Census, legislators get together and draw district lines in collusion .


      -In terms of dealing with “talent,” collusion is not the only way the Valley oligarchs work to keep wages down.


      – This was a matter of routine in a sport with a culture of collusion and cheating.


      – Zealous to whitewash herself Ekaterina in collusion with media loyal to the Kremlin attacked the 



  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    “He told me three times I’m not under investigation. He’s a showboater. He’s a grandstander. I don’t know any Russians. There was no collusion.”

    Mr. Trump continues to demonstrate his ignorance and willingness to lie. He’s good at projection, too.

  8. dwfreeman says:

    The question of collusion doesn’t bear on anything other than how any of us view it as pertinent to or an underlying understanding of what Mueller reports it to be in terms of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and why he, in the end, decided not to charge it.

    Not because there was an absence of evidence of it. On the contrary, there was widespread evidence that it occurred, it just didn’t rise to the level of a chargeable criminal conspiracy because the elements of the conspiracy weren’t met as far as Mueller and his team of investigators sought to define them beyond a reasonable doubt standard for criminal conviction.

    As Marcy so clearly points out, there were two campaigns to win Trump the White House in 2016, one run by Putin’s Russian Federation and one run by the candidate and his political backers. The Mueller probe identified this dichotomy and charged its separate players accordingly with and six guilty who committed various crimes in connection with their combined efforts to help Trump get elected. That was their joint aim. In so doing, they colluded with each other but independent of a written, verbal or implied agreement of one, insofar as evidence could be found to demonstrate some form of communicated action linking this shared and motivated result.

    In connection with those campaigns, both sides intermingled. This was the third part of their joint effort. As part of that, and as 173 pages of the Mueller report documents, they traded ideas, thoughts, political intentions, influence, business proposals, polling data, and future policy promises in support of their combined efforts.

    That’s a lot of collusion in plain sight. Let’s do the math. At least 16 people involved in Trump’s campaign had at least 102 contacts with Moscow-linked associates, including at least 28 meetings (more have been identified in the report) during the campaign and transition. Of those, another 12 Trump associates were aware of such meetings.

    For Trump to insist that there was no collusion, no business connections between himself and the Kremlin, in fact, no ties to Russia whatsoever, as he continues to project in a blanket assertion (just like the false contention about the size of his inaugural crowd), he has to ignore the reality that a Republican-appointed special counsel whose actions he sparked and repeatedly sought to thwart didn’t indict both his campaign and deputy campaign chairman, national security advisor and personal attorney and “fixer” about lying to federal authorities about their contacts Putin-linked representatives on his behalf.

    This is, by far, the worst scandal to befall an American president in our history. And we still haven’t even discovered why Trump has lied about all of it. The Mueller report is an impeachment referral, no different than the one prepared for Congress by Leon Jaworski to impeach Nixon. The Democrats need to act on it out of constitutional mandate to protect the republic regardless of political consequence in 2020. Time is of the essence, and they are on the clock.

    • orionATL says:

      thanks. it is indeed the worst presidential scandal.

      I think “collusion” will prove a valuable term in the fight for widespread understanding in defending against trump&co. propaganda. as it happened, trump and his PR crew introduced the term as their preferred term to confuse the issue of “conspiracy”. fine. we will use collusion. it just happens to be in our common vocabulary, often associated with underhanded business activities – coke and Pepsi; United, American, and delta; drug companies.

      • bmaz says:

        “Collusion” will NEVER be a useful term to deal with anything encompassing criminal law. It has no meaning whatsoever. Unless your paradigm involves rather specialized bankruptcy considerations, “collusion” has no meaning, and will never be helpful. The word is conspiracy.

        • orionATL says:


          1. this is just more of your useless ranting. you missed the point entirely.

          2. the criminal law vocab is not necessarily the best vocabulary to use with ordinary citizens.

          3. it so happens that criminal law vocab does not control the American version of the English language.

          4. try to be a bit less arrogant about your expansive claims for the criminal law vocabulary and recognize you may not be an authority on the use of language in political persuasion.

  9. Howard H. Hart says:

    “But collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law.”

    I disagree. It is found here: Scroll down a bit and this is found:

    “(B) being influenced to commit or aid in committing, or to collude in, or allow, any fraud, or make opportunity for the commission of any fraud, on the United States; or…”

    • bmaz says:

      This is a complete load of bunk. You have stumbled on a definitional sub-statute that happens to sloppily contain the word “collude” and you magically think that makes it a “crime”.

      It does not, and the very argument is absurd. Ask anybody that does criminal law for a living, either prosecution or defense, and they will tell you this. There indeed no specific offenses in the criminal code making “collusion” a crime. There are people here that know what they are doing, you clearly do not. The word is conspiracy for actual offenses under Title 18.

      • Howard H. Hart says:

        I opt to believe my lying eyes rather than your obviously juvenile middle-school playground fallacious and pseudo-argument.

        • P J Evans says:

          first mistake: arguing with an owner/moderator
          second mistake: arguing with an actual practicing lawyer


  10. orionATL says:

    I am annoyed.

    as I see things now, given the report of the office of special counsel, at the moment President Trump has no legal liability – legal as in instituted and carried out within the our legal system by prosecutors, juries, judges and lawyers.
    I see things this way because I understand that

    1. the legally authorized dept of justice osc prosecution says they cannot pursue obstruction of justice matters due to departmental rules.

    2. the legally authorized ….. says they do not have the preponderance of evidence they judge necessary to pursue a president on conspiracy charges.

    no part of the Congress is a authorized to act as a part of our judicial system. the Congress cannot indict, cannot prosecute by statute, cannot try, cannot find legally guilty or not guilty.

    so, no criminal considerations at this time for prez. amirite?

    later on, via the Sdny DOJ offshoot and other legal institutions, there may be some indictments,trials, etc.,

    but that is later and this is now and so

    conspiracy is a dead issue at the moment.

    so let us talk about collusion, an issue we can all intuit.

    • Eureka says:

      I get where you’re coming from here and above, as I had been thinking that we need a word, and that a word _needs to be used_ for the conspiracy part because everyone is focused to date on the ‘obstruction’ half. (In any case we need to be using the active verbier forms instead of nouny states: obstructed. 45 obstructed.) And even Marcy the other day noted the irony that they did indeed “collude.”

      I’m not committed to anything quite yet but had wondered in passing if going with “coordinated” as the new commonly understood word would help. But as I jot that, it seems just as easy to use the word “conspired:” the active form that also has a common-word place in parole.

      My concern about “collusion” is that it’s already polluted, and that any lawmaker using that word would sound dumb, like Rudy for example. However some might just as readily argue the value of taking that word back and pointing it against the president and his propagandists.

      In imagining-through the semantic battles over ‘colluding’ (~~ between roughly dems etc. vs 45-supporters, not regulars vs. lawyers ;) ) and another over ‘conspiring,’ why not entertain other words? Plotted / cooperated/ lived-for that assistance… schemed! I like schemed for the moment; will have to roll through an internal/external thesaurus at some point.

      All this to say the real word we need to focus on parsing is “establish.”

      • orionATL says:

        I think this is a very good idea. personally, I don’t give fig for coll- over con- or vice versa, I just had fun pointing out that the english language cannot be constrained by a legal dictionary, and that trump has been effectively “cleared” of conspiracy by the Mueller team’s decision not to prosecute. actually, writing “AMIRITE” WAS THE HIGHLIGHT FOR ME. THEN LATER it occurred to me that I could have written “or amirong”. missed the opportunity. bummer.

        my sense is that the American people will make a decision based on a broad sense of trust and confidence, or lack thereof, in their prez. the enemy here is time and memory and propaganda. news events are so continuous, so often highly dramatic, so that it will be easy to erase by October 2020 the memories of April, 2019. that is why I think a steady, revelation over time by committees led by Schiff and nadler, plus business/tax fraud investigations, should be greatly preferred to a sudden splash for impeachment now. I note that Elizabeth Warren is talking with folks about why impeachment is necessary. I think that kind of continuing education over time is the way to influence the 2020 elections both for prez and for congress.

        so indeed let’s find a more useful vocabulary to describe our Prez’s many transgressions and use it persistently for the next 18 months.

        • bmaz says:

          There is no need for new vocabulary. Let’s simply use the legally accurate words and quit the dissembling to the American public. The word conspiracy is not only the correct word, it is quite easily understandable. Using bullshit terms is not useful.

          • orionATL says:

            you are a sharp guy, bmaz. so why do you continue to behave like an obtuse orangutan on the issue of language usage?

            you have demonstrated neither the an interest nor the capacity to understand the points I have made.

            • P J Evans says:

              bmaz is speaking in legal terms, not in general-conversation terms, and is, I believe, trying to get the rest of us to use the legally-correct terms instead of using Tr*mp’s very-much-colloquial words.

              • orionATL says:

                I think you have a point, p.j.

                but right now this has become a silly teapot tempest in a matter where there is a lot more to be concerned about than the English teacher’s “p.w.c.”* correction. let’s see where matters stand in early November 2020.

                “poor word choice”

            • orionATL says:

              let’s put it this way:

              either word is perfectly appropriate to use to describe some of trump’s behavior as candidate and as president.

              collusion can be used if one wants to describe how trump schemed with some Russians without invoking any legal issue.

              conspiracy can be used for the same set of behaviors if one wants to invoke some American law.

              this seems a fair division of labor for the two words.

  11. Nash says:

    This is a very sharp point made by Marcy. Really astute.

    However, this is my interpretation of how Mueller worked with the word.

    Mueller did not find the word collusion in the US Code. He could not find it as a criminal offense.

    So he looked up law dictionaries and did find that word. Then, he picked up the term “agreement” in those dictionaries as an important condition.

    Then, he worked the word “agreement” backward and found that the legal definitions of the word Conspiracy also include “agreement”. And, Conspiracy is a crime.

    So, then, he set forth his arguments as to why Conspiracy is the centerpiece of his inquiry.

    So, now, did he look for collusion? The answer seems both yes and no. Unfortunately. Yes, because the conditional word “agreement” is being taken out from collusion’s definitions and is looked for. No, because “collusion” itself, was sidelined on page 2.

  12. Kick the darkness says:

    Finishing up vol 1. So, if I understand all the elements Mueller needed to show to bring a conspiracy charge, the Aug. 2 meeting should get really close (as has been pointed out on this site): a tacit agreement, awareness of intent (cutting off Kilimnik when the T word came up), and an overt act. From the declination part of vol. 1, I guess in the end the conclusion must have been that, shady as all this may seem, it wasn’t clear if a crime was committed. No crime, no conspiracy. But I am confused as to why the Aug. 2 meeting did not meet Mueller’s definition of coordination; there appeared to be a tacit agreement, Kilimnick would appear to be connected with the RU, and its hard to understand the exchange of polling data as having to do with anything other than election interference. So I don’t get that part. Maybe because they could not establish that the exchange directly contributed to the interference effort? Or the “thing of value” discussion?

    In general, I was surprised how little the report said about that polling data. You might think they would include information from Gates as to whose idea it was to bring the data, and the nature of their understanding as to how the data was to be used once Kilimnik passed it on. But the report is silent on that. You get the sense that if the existence of the polling data had not been accidentally unredacted it might not even be in the report at all. I’m not a Mueller doubter-I think he prepared a substantive, well documented and completely damning account of the Trump campaign and presidency. But I am left to wonder what else, if anything is known about the overall significance of transmitting some sort of data regarding battleground states at a critical juncture in the campaign. I just remember on election night 2016 stuck in traffic driving back with my kid from goalkeeper training and going-it’s strange, everything is going this asshole’s way.

    • Kick the darkness says:

      Also, if Assange had been charged in the hack and leak indictment, would that have paved the way for Stone to be charged as well?

    • Kick the darkness says:

      OK, for some reason felt compelled to dive into the polling data thing. Set a 2 hr time limit. Manafort instructed Gates to share data on multiple occasions. NYT reported data went to Ukranians (Serhiy Lyovochkin, Rinat Akhmetov), but Gates thought was going to Derispaska, who traveled to US same day as Aug. 2 meeting. Bottom line, lots of anatamosing tendrils that all seems pretty fishy. Marcy suggests this may be part of referred investigations associated with Manafort breaking his plea deal (the Mr. 5 letter and Mr. 7 letter redactions).

      By late summer 2016, Trump polling was not looking good. A plan or plans appear to have been devised to save the candidate. These likely involved targeted, disruptive social media stuff. Such strategies could have been crucial in battleground states. Psy-Group, Nader (5), Zamel (5), Prince, Don Jr., Kushner (7) are names that come up; P-G pitched Trump campaign pretty hard. Unclear how Project Rome (P-G plan) would have connected up downstream of Kilimnik; was there a RU connection or was this separate? Or perhaps Manafort worked a related plan back through a RU network of connections (told Mr. 5 letter not to get involved). Anyway, Zamel (5) bragged after election that he’d helped set it up, and in an interview prior to election Millian (7) said Trump had some “tricks up his sleeve”. Millian (7) seems a pretty spooky guy, but not clearly associated with any save the candidate plan that I could tell. Was Mueller able to run any of this to ground-who know? But if it is still under investigation, either A) the “no conspiracy, no coordination” finding seems premature, or B) no conspiracy, coordination with RU effort may be parsing it finely.

      Related EW posts (won’t append other stuff, but note Wendy Siegelman’s twitter feed on 2016 economic forum in St. Petersburg is interesting).

      Anyway sorry long post. Just wanted to see what I could find. And the way Trump’s going at it like Wreck it Ralph on US democratic institutions, what happened in 2016 may seem quaint. Finish with some deep electric love from El Norte, helping Mr. Fitzgerald’s dark fields of the republic keep rolling. Under the dead of night, towards an uncertain future.


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