Doug Collins digs into defining collusion
WASHINGTON – During former special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, the committee’s ranking Republican got into a rather heated, and muddled, exchange over the meaning of the terms conspiracy and collusion.
President Donald Trump has often claimed that Mueller’s report outlining his findings cleared him of any collusion in the Kremlin’s efforts to influence the 2016 election. Some of the president’s critics said that the report cleared him of criminal conspiracy, but did not address collusion. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., argued the terms were interchangeable.
Speaking rapidly, Collins asked Mueller about part of his report that said, “collusion is largely synonymous with conspiracy.”
Mueller first asked Collins to repeat the question.
“Collusion is not a specific offense or a term of art in the federal criminal law. Conspiracy is,” Collins said.
“Yes,” Mueller agreed.
“In the colloquial context, known public context, collusion and conspiracy are essentially synonymous terms, correct?” Collins asked.
“No,” Mueller said.
Collins then referred to the page of Mueller’s report that appeared to say the opposite.
“You said at your May 29 press conference, and here today, you choose your words carefully. Are you sitting here today testifying something different than what your report states?” Collins asked.
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Mueller asked Collins to give him the citation so he could give a clear answer.
“You stated that you would stay within the report. I just stated your report back to you and you said that collusion and conspiracy were not synonymous terms,” before again quoting the relevant page of Mueller’s report.
“You said you chose your words carefully. Are you contradicting that report right now?” Collins demanded.
“Not when I read it,” Mueller said.
“So, you would change your answer to ‘yes’ then?” Collins asked.
“No, if you look at the language,” Mueller said, trailing off as he looked at a sheet of paper. He asked Collins to repeat the page, before mumbling a bit and saying, “I leave it with the report.”
Collins said he hoped that meant they could finally “put to bed the collusion and conspiracy” questions.
At the opening of his questioning, Collins said he’d been told that “I talk fast” and promised Mueller he would try to “talk slowly.”
Despite Collins’ promise, he did tend to speak quickly, leading Mueller at one point to ask Collins to repeat a question because “that went a little fast for me.”
Another potential reason for Mueller’s confused answer to the question of whether “conspiracy” and “collusion” are synonymous is that an earlier section of his report has a slightly different take on the use of the terms.
In that section, the report says that in looking at whether something “constituted a crime” investigators “applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of ‘collusion.'” But it explains that in other contexts, investigators chose to use the word “coordination” rather than collusion.
“Like collusion, ‘coordination’ does not have a settled definition in federal criminal law,” the report says. “We understood coordination to require an agreement – tacit or express – between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.
“We applied the term coordination in that sense when stating in the report that the investigation did not establish that the Trump Campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Whatever the term, Mueller’s report said, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”