The Cognitive Dissonance of Learning about Roger Stone’s “Collusion”

On March 27, just days after Bill Barr issued his “summary” of the Mueller Report but well before the Report got released publicly, I wrote a post laying out how Barr obviously understated the complicity of Trump and his flunkies. I noted how he focused exclusively on what the campaign (and not its satellite ratfuckers) did, and only on what they may have done with Russia. As a result, it left a big space for what Roger Stone, according to his indictment, did: attempt to (with uncertain success) optimize the release of the stolen emails.

Stone was not charged with conspiring with WikiLeaks. But then, short of making an argument that WikiLeaks is a known agent of Russia — which the US government has never done — optimizing the WikiLeaks release is not a crime. But assuming that Corsi is correct that Stone got WikiLeaks to hold the Podesta release to dampen the impact of the Access Hollywood video, it is absolutely coordination. And even according to Stone — who believed Trump needed to avoid alienating women to win — dampening the release of the video influenced the election.

Now consider how this behavior falls into Barr’s supposed exoneration of Trump campaign involvement in the hack-and-leak.

First, there’s Barr’s truncated citation of a Mueller Report sentence. [my emphasis throughout]

As the report states: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

Then a footnote defining what the word “coordinated” means in that sentence.

In assessing potential conspiracy charges, the Special Counsel also considered whether members of the Trump campaign “coordinated” with Russian election interference activities. The Special Counsel defined “coordinated” as an “agreement–tacit or express–between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.”

Finally, there’s Barr’s own version.

The second element involved the Russian government’s efforts to conduct computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election. The Special Counsel found that Russian government actors successfully hacked into computers and obtained emails from persons affiliated with the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party organizations, and publicly disseminated those materials through various intermediaries, including WikiLeaks. Based on these activities, the Special Counsel brought criminal charges against a number of Russian military officers for conspiring to hack into computers in the United States for purposes of influencing the election. But as noted above, the Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.

The exoneration for coordination in Mueller’s language, at least, extends only to the Trump campaign, not to rat-fuckers working on the side (one of the things Mueller reportedly asked a lot of witnesses was precisely when and why Stone left the campaign). And at least according to this language, Mueller’s assessment of coordination extended only to coordination with the Russian government. So even if Mueller and the US government are getting close to labeling WikiLeaks a Russian entity, it still wouldn’t count for this assessment. Unsurprisingly, Barr relies on that language to give the Trump campaign a clean bill of health on the hack-and-leak side.

Most cynically, though, even after Barr acknowledges that the Russians used WikiLeaks to disseminate the stolen emails, the very next sentence doesn’t mention the charges Mueller brought against Stone for hiding his own (and through him, the campaign’s, including Donald Trump’s) coordination of the releases “for purposes of influencing the election.”

But we know Stone’s indictment has to be in the report. That’s because the report, by regulation, must list all Mueller’s prosecutorial decisions. So not only would Mueller describe that he indicted Stone, but he probably also explains why he didn’t include a conspiracy charge in Stone’s indictment (which probably relates primarily to First Amendment concerns, and not any illusions about WikiLeaks’ willing service for Russia on this operation). So it must be in the report. But Barr doesn’t mention that, indeed, the Trump campaign, through their associated rat-fucker, did actually coordinate on the hack-and-leak and did actually influence the election by doing so, they just didn’t coordinate directly with the Russian government.

On this matter, it’s crystal clear that Barr cynically limited his discussion of the report to obscure that Mueller had, indeed, found that the campaign “coordinated” on the hack-and-leak for purposes of influencing the election.

When the Report came out, it became clear I was more right than I expected. First, there were two previously unknown incidents showing the evidence against Stone to be worse than previously known. The report showed Rick Gates witnessing a call where Stone, presumably, informed Trump that more files were coming. But it also included testimony from Ted Malloch who, contrary to being an intermediary to Assange (as Corsi had claimed) instead described learning from Corsi that WikiLeaks would drop John Podesta emails, backing the claim that Corsi and/or Stone got advanced information about the releases.

But the Report also had an almost entirely redacted section that — the TOC makes clear — includes analysis about whether optimizing email releases with WikiLeaks constitutes a campaign donation.

As noted, that section is almost entirely redacted, at least in part because of the Stone trial. Nevertheless, in most parts, it parallels the analysis done, in unredacted form, on the June 9 meeting. It has a section on whether these emails constitute a thing of value and whether the benefit was obtained willfully (that part is unredacted and suggests there might be difficulties on this front as well). But it also includes a section on the constitutional implications of defining optimized releases of emails as a campaign finance violation.

So we should assume that Mueller didn’t charge what we’re seeing in part for very good First Amendment reasons (though the EDVA indictment of Julian Assange seems to conflict with that analysis).

I raise all this by way of explanation to the many people wondering how the abundant evidence that not just Stone, but Trump himself, worked to optimize the release of the stolen emails did not get charged. Mueller considered it, and in part for reasons that we should all respect, did not charge it.

All that said, people experiencing cognitive dissonance should remember something else.

Mueller’s Report only addressed crimes he charged or declined to charge. It did not — he said explicitly on page 2 — address collusion. And while Bill Barr tried to define “collusion” as “conspiracy between the campaign itself and the Russian government,” and having done so exonerated Trump of all collusion, the report itself does not do so.

Which is why I keep going back to how Mark Meadows defined “collusion” in a hearing a year ago. In walking George Papadopoulos through his claimed ignorance of any attempt to optimize the emails that Joseph Mifsud told him about, Meadows defined “collusion” as “benefiting from Hillary Clinton emails.”

Mr. Papadopoulos. And after he was throwing these allegations at me, I —

Mr. Meadows. And by allegations, allegations that the Trump campaign was benefiting from Hillary Clinton emails?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Something along those lines, sir. And I think I pushed back and I told him, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. What you’re talking about is something along the lines of treason. I’m not involved. I don’t know anyone in the campaign who’s involved. And, you know, I really have nothing to do with Russia. That’s — something along those lines is how I think I responded to this person.

Mr. Meadows. So essentially at this point, he was suggesting that there was collusion and you pushed back very firmly is what it sounds like. [my emphasis]

One of Trump’s top backers in Congress defines “collusion” as whether the campaign benefitted from the release of Hillary’s stolen emails. And while we haven’t yet seen in trial exhibits that Stone did succeed (though the Malloch testimony seems to suggest we will), what we have seen is that the campaign, from Trump on down, made significant efforts to “collude.”

That’s where I predicted we’d end up after hearing Barr’s very narrow exoneration but before seeing the report: that the campaign “colluded” in ways that Mueller could not charge criminally.

43 replies
  1. Yargelsnogger says:

    So my anti-Barr recap of the Mueller report which I have been saying for months and seems to be solidifying daily would be;

    Trump campaign members and associates engaged in significant communication, encouragement and collusion with a Russian-originated conspiracy to subvert US elections and election law. However, insufficient evidence was available to show beyond a reasonable doubt that these activities amounted to a chargeable conspiracy, due in significant measure to the material lies of witnesses, destruction of evidence, and obstructive acts by both the President of the United States and other subjects of the investigation.

    I am not a lawyer so forgive small imprecision in terminology, but holidays with my Trumpists relatives are coming up so I want to make sure i have a simple message together than makes sense. Does that otherwise sound about right?

    • Pablointhegazebo says:

      I also have Trumpists relatives on the holiday horizon, but it is not a problem because none of them speak to me anymore.

    • ducktree says:

      Ditto ianal, but I believe the criminal standard for conviction is “beyond the shadow of a doubt,” while civil conviction standard is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Though it has been quite some time since I’ve sat on a jury.

      • Mary F Bowman says:

        Criminal standard is beyond a reasonable doubt. Civil standard is preponderance of the evidence (if scales tip however slightly to one side).

    • Vicks says:

      “Immoral but not illegal” is once again the republican defense.
      The whole point of cognitive dissonance is that you can’t hold two opposing thoughts or views at the same time, and something must change to accommodate the situation, unfortunately in Trump’s case it seems to be the person that changes.
      Good luck with the holidays, if it helps I am always genuinely curious where this stuff is coming from, and if you can get away with it I find getting a righteous trump supporter to repeat themselves when they tell a whopper (“I hear Trump supporters saying that all the time but I don’t understand” works well) will more often than not force them to scramble to use more of their own words to try to explain.
      It’s subtle but at least to a degree it forces them to process their words instead of mindlessly parroting, most of the time, trump-splaining comes out pretty weak and much less interesting when it’s done by amateurs. When it’s less interesting that’s on them and you just change the subject with an “oh” or turn to your dinner partner on your left.

      • Frank Probst says:

        I think the Dems need to keep hammering on “significant damage to our national security”. Every US Ambassador on the planet is now taken less seriously than they were a few months ago. And if Rudy Giuliani shows up in your country, you might as well just delete the US Embassy’s number from your phone. The reputation of the entire State Department was and is on the line here, and the Secretary of State is unwilling to show any support for our career diplomats.

    • elevator48 says:

      Isn’t one of the main points that Mueller says that they had insufficient evidence for charges they conspired with the “Russian Government”. How far removed from the Guv does one have to be, especially in Russia, to not be considered an agent? Because there was lot’s of collusion with Russians.

      • Vicks says:

        It was Barr that got nerdy wordy using words like “established” and “Russian government” and “US citizens” to exonerate everyone.
        Without quoting the report exactly I recall Muller laid numberous examples (and evidence of contacts) but then pointed to the lies, deleted information and other examples of obstruction that prevented him from having what he needed to indict.

  2. OldTulsaDude says:

    How can this be framed so that it is simple enough to fit on a bumper sticker and sharp enough to pierce the bubble of right wing noise? The real jury of an impeachment trial is the American public. The Gordian knot of convincing them to turn on Trump will require a special sword.

  3. Bobster33 says:

    Are Randy Credico or Steve Bannon in any jeopardy from this trial? I read a lot of hype but nothing concrete.

  4. MattyG says:

    Which is why I have always thought that impeachment will ultimately boil down to Volume I issues of collusion and “tacit” agreements between DT and foreign players, official or not, capable of speaking for foreign governments as to enter into tacit agreements. To see past Barr’s self-interested editorial filter the unredacted report must be available to Congress.

    Also, the point black assertion in the opening lines of the executive summary that a sitting president can’t be indicted as “that is unconstitutional” must (a) be determined if this is Barr or Mueller speaking and (b) challenged in direct debate by Congress. No more punting.

    • prostratedragon says:

      Also, the point black assertion in the opening lines of the executive summary that a sitting president can’t be indicted as “that is unconstitutional” must (a) be determined if this is Barr or Mueller speaking and (b) challenged in direct debate by Congress.

      When I heard Mueller say this I interpreted it as in the form of signalling in a hostage statement.

      • MattyG says:

        We don’t know these are Mueller’s words. I’d say it’s Barr speaking here – putting the first heavy spin on the report and laying the conceptual groundwork for his personalized Unitary Executive redaction formula.

        And as far I know Mueller wasn’t questioned about how the team came to the iron clad rule – How and from where their particular legal and constitutional framework was derived. Nor was he questioned on why apparently so few dots were deemed permisible to connect (because a president can’t allegedly be indicted) even if he’d been tasked with discovering whether “tacit” agreements had been established.

        Ideally Congress gets the full report (at least those with required clearance) and all of Mueller’s casework, and Mueller is re-interviewd by the impeachment committees.

  5. Kick the darkess says:

    Following the Stone trial…if you search the Mueller report for “Stone” the majority of (non-Rob Goldstone) hits fall within the section outlining the Q&A of Trump’s written exam. There’s this little nugget.

    “I spoke by telephone with Roger Stone from time to time during the campaign. I have no recollection of the specifics of any conversations I had with Mr. Stone between June 1.2016 and November 8, 2016. I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with him, nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign, although I was aware that WikiLeaks was the subject of media reporting and campaign-related discussion at the time.”

    The Violent Femmes “3” album is a great under-rated album in part because of this song “Lies”, which admirably sums up Mr. Trump’s response. Third verse even has “stone” in it.

  6. Kick the darkess says:

    In the Twitter-verse Mueller seems to be catching lots of shit lately. To be clear, that’s not me. I felt the Mueller report was kind of analogous to a detailed, old school, scientific paper such as might come from a senior investigator who doesn’t feel the need to impress anybody anymore. Amazing results section-complete, thorough. Discussion section-well-the significance of the findings fail to be placed in perspective and the work ultimately suffers for it. The facts never just speak for themselves,

    All of which is to say that the way “coordinate” is considered in the Mueller report bugged me, I have to be honest. So for,

    “On this matter, it’s crystal clear that Barr cynically limited his discussion of the report to obscure that Mueller had, indeed, found that the campaign “coordinated” on the hack-and-leak for purposes of influencing the election.”

    That has to be true. That evidence must be in there. But, critically, the report itself does accept this conclusion. The top line is:

    “Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

    Like you write elsewhere in the post(s) (and as the Mueller report stipulates in its definition of the term) the bar for “coordinate” is placed at evidence of a direct coordination between card carrying Campaign members and Russian actors. Basically, Mueller’s view seems to have been that coordination is not transitive. If A = B and B =C then, well, we can’t really say anything definitive on A’s relationship to C. Maybe I’m being unfair or missing something. But if the Mueller report had in fact said that they found evidence for the “coordination” that presumably must lurk behind the HOM redactions I think the whole report might have been perceived differently.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      EW has explored at length, too, that “the Trump campaign” and “the Russian government” are very limited categories.

      The TC is a separate legal entity from any other person or organization. Focusing only on it leaves out a large number of persons who might well have “coordinated” on behalf of Donald J. Trump.

      Focusing only on the formal structure of the RG leaves out another large set of actors. Examples include Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs, who work on Putin’s behalf (or eventually lose their status as oligarch), and persons working on behalf of Russian intelligence, whose ties to it cannot be established beyond a reasonable doubt.

      For comparison, focusing only on USG employees coordinating Ukraine policy would leave out Rudy Giuliani and probably Trump’s spawn. Doing so would preclude forming a basic understanding of Trump’s Ukraine policies.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    There seems to be a lot of commentary blaming Rudy Giuliani for Trump’s Ukraine policies. That puts the cart before the horse.

    Rudy is a corrupt adviser and cartoon villain. But Trump chooses to use him to further his own ends, and that’s on Trump. If there is a green-ey’d monster in this tale, it is Trump.

    • Tom says:

      The November 11th issue of TIME is a good example. There is an unflattering photo of Giuliani on the cover and part of the caption reads: “Rudy Giuliani was supposed to protect Donald Trump. He might get him impeached.” No, the only person who’s going to get Donald Trump impeached is Donald Trump.

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Regarding the hoopla about Putin inviting Trump to celebrate May Day 2020 in Moscow, Trump does know that it’s more than a military parade, amirite?

    A traditional holiday in Europe, May 1st has long been recognized as International Labor Day. That’s why business leaders insisted that the American version be held in September, to dissociate it from the one they considered a commie plot.

    • P J Evans says:

      I doubt that Trmp knows anything about the history of either day. He just wants to be on the reviewing stand with everyone saluting him.

      • Tom says:

        And has no-one told him what an absolute stooge he’ll look like standing next to Putin and all the Russian armed forces top brass while Russian tanks and other military hardware rolls by in front of them. Trump will think he’s finally arrived, that he’s playing with the Big Boys now!

  9. Erin says:

    Since campaign finance law explicitly prohibits even soliciting contributions from a foreign country, it’s unclear why the Trump Campaign wasn’t charged with anything at all regarding the June 2016 meeting.

    And yet, seeking “dirt” would preclude that the campaign was in fact colluding, which is why it is understandable that Mueller couldn’t charge the campaign with any crimes.

    It also seems evident that Manafort went to great lengths to insulate Trump from such meetings and to provide the campaign (and therefore Trump) the benefits without having Trump be involved.

    Which is why everyone else, but Trump, is in jail.

    The Big Issue, for me, is whether or not this President is friendly with Autocratic Leaders. Which we know he is. And it’s clear he agrees with Putin that “Americans have too much Freedom”.

    It’s very frustrating to see “defending Trump” as a partisan issue; it’s not about my “America” or “your America”; it’s about protecting the system that works very well for us and realizing that when you invite abuses of power to “win”, you ultimately pay too high a cost. I mean, what are you really fighting? Trans people in public places?!?!

    • Tom says:

      If you check p. 187 of vol. I of the Mueller Report, you’ll see that Mueller did not lay any charges as a result of the Trump Tower meeting of June 9, 2016 because, “… the government would unlikely be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the June 9 meeting participants had general knowledge that there conduct was unlawful.”

  10. harpie says:

    o/t dispatch from the Roger Stone trial:
    9:13 AM – 8 Nov 2019

    [Stone attorney] Buschell asking if Credico did not want to be associated with Stone and thus the Trump campaign..

    [Credico:] “Absolutely, would you?” “I do not like kids in cages, I do not like –”

    Judge [ABJ] cuts Credico off. He adds he was a Bernie Sanders supporter.

  11. klynn says:

    Thanks for this post EW.

    So my takeaway from the trial opening statements is that Roger’s defense will essentially be that Stone, one of the best rat-f-ers, got rat-f’d by just “ok” rat-f-ers. However, the prosecution will show Roger is still a rat-f-er tied to RU rat-f-ers.

    I get this is an over simplification. But I honestly cannot get over that is his defense.

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