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AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s diversion tactic on ‘collusion’

July 31, 2018

President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, July 30, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump denied Tuesday there was any “collusion” between his presidential campaign and Russia, and declared that “collusion is not a crime” anyway. Case closed? Not exactly.

Trump and his lawyers are right that the term “collusion” isn’t a precise one when it comes to U.S. law. But that doesn’t change the potential legal fallout stemming from the Russia investigation, which could touch on laws against computer hacking, election fraud and conspiracy against the United States.

A look at the buzz term “collusion” and what we’re really talking about:

TRUMP on Twitter Tuesday: “Collusion is not a crime, but that doesn’t matter because there was No Collusion (except by Crooked Hillary and the Democrats)!

GIULIANI on Fox News on Monday: “I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime...Collusion is not a crime.”

THE FACTS: It is correct to say that election collusion isn’t a precise legal term. (While we’re at it, election “meddling” isn’t either.) The U.S. code mostly uses the term “collusion” in antitrust laws to address crimes like price fixing.

But there are plenty of specific laws on the books that could apply if Trump’s presidential campaign is found to have collaborated with Moscow, including a conspiracy to defraud the United States. There are also laws against election fraud, computer hacking, wire fraud and falsifying records, if those apply.

So far, special counsel Robert Mueller has accused the Russians of hacking into Democrats’ computers and stealing emails, as well as trying to stoke U.S. tensions before the 2016 election using social media. Mueller has already accused Trump’s former campaign chairman and another top aide of working as foreign agents for Ukrainian interests and funneling millions of dollars from the work into offshore accounts used to fund lavish lifestyles.

Mueller might decide, for example, that a crime was committed if he finds evidence that an American was involved in the hack of Democrats, either by soliciting it or paying someone to do it.

The investigation also has exposed Moscow’s aggressive outreach to the Trump campaign, including a promise of “dirt” on Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in a meeting attended by Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr.

If Trump or his aides knew in advance that Russia had the trove of stolen emails and did nothing to alert federal authorities, they could be accused of covering up the crime of stolen emails or working as foreign agents. Although it’s rare for the Justice Department to charge people for not reporting illegal behavior, it’s also not often that a special counsel team, with a wide-ranging mandate to find wrongdoing, is on the case.

As well, a conspiracy to defraud the United States can be used to refer to any two people using “deceit, craft, or trickery” to interfere with governmental functions, such as an election.

In other words, “collusion” might be shorthand. But if it relates to Russia and U.S. elections, it can still be very much against the law.

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Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

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