The Trump campaign in 2016 was signaling to Russia that it would be happy to have the Putin regime’s help. President Trump, as a candidate, famously called for Russia’s assistance. Later, when pressed, he repeatedly refused to clearly acknowledge its interference or condemn it. Now it appears that Trump campaign was not simply hinting that it would welcome this help. The Wall Street Journal very recently, and now the New York Times, have reported active Trump campaign or campaign supporter contacts with Russian agents or intermediaries toward the goal of obtaining negative information about Hillary Clinton. And, for the first time, someone named Trump–Donald, Jr.–has publicly confirmed that the campaign communicated directly with a Russia foreign national connected with the Putin regime in the bid for material damaging to the former Secretary of State.
In previous pieces, I have discussed the ground of legal liability based on “substantial assistance” to, or “aiding and abetting,” a foreign national’s providing a “thing of value” to influence an election. To this date the evidence has been largely on the public record, in “plain sight,” and it included Mr. Trump’s own comments. The recently published reports do not replace this theory; they supplement it, or round it out, by corroborating that what the campaign was pursuing through private channels were the same goals–help from the Russians—that were strongly indicated by the candidate’s words and related public behavior.
Of course, it should go without saying that we will have a reliable grasp on the evidence only when the facts are developed and tested through the legal system. There are a host of questions still to be answered about the reported Trump campaign contacts. But the most recent press accounts are especially significant because they include specific statements on the record conceding the Trump campaign’s expressed interest in what the Russians could provide. Those statements show intent–a clear-cut willingness to have Russian support–and they reveal specific actions undertaken to obtain it.