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What Exactly Is Collusion?
politics

What Exactly Is Collusion?

Patrick Allan, Gawker Media

Photo via The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff .

If you've even glanced at the news lately, you've probably seen or heard the term "collusion" when referring to President Trump's senior staff being accused of shady dealings with Russia. But what is collusion? And is it actually a crime?

Today, Jared Kushner, President Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, stood before Senate investigators and denied any collusion with foreign agents before or after the 2016 presidential campaign. His statement is, of course, referring to the news that a meeting between a Russian national who claimed to have damaging material on Hillary Clinton and Trump's inner circle did in fact occur in June of 2016. The term "collusion" has been a political buzzword ever since, but it's largely being used as a blanket statement and doesn't hold as much weight under U.S. law as you might think.

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The literal definition of the word is "secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose." When it comes to competition and antitrust law, it is illegal here in the U.S. Outside of that, however, collusion itself is not a specific federal crime. You can technically "collude" with a foreign government any time you want, as there is no such statute that says otherwise. The term is vague, and is being improperly used as short-hand for a wide gamut of possible criminality.

Still, just because federal law does not criminalize collusion specifically that doesn't mean other crimes didn't occur. As Paul Rosenzweig, former deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, explains at Politico , Trump's staff could be charged with conspiracy (18 U.S. Code 371) to violate election laws of the United States. In this case, U.S. law prohibits foreign nationals from contributing any "thing of value" to an electoral campaign-and dirt on Hilary Clinton may fall under that loose terminology. According to John W. Dean , former White House counsel for Richard Nixon, other possible infractions include " aiding and abetting " (18 U.S. Code 2), "fraud and related activity in connection with computers" ( 18 U.S. Code 1030 ), "wire fraud" ( 18 U.S. Code 1343 ), and "contributions and donations by foreign nationals" ( 52 U.S. Code 30121 ).

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When it comes to talk of "collusion," Carrie Cordero , attorney, adjunct professor at Georgetown Law, and former counsel to the assistant attorney general for national security, notes that it's important to "distinguish between the political and the legal discussion." The term itself will continue to get tossed around, but it's important to know that it doesn't have any specific legal meaning. There is no law that says Trump's senior staff can't work with Russians. For there to be repercussions, there must be evidence that they worked together to commit a specific crime, aided one another in committing a specific crime, or helped each other cover up a specific crime. For now, we'll have to let the investigation run its course and see what turns up.

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