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Clark writes: "How did the word 'collusion' get introduced into the public lexicon? And who is initially responsible for introducing it? The answer, it turns out, goes back to July of 2016 at the Democratic National Convention."

Donald Trump Jr. (photo: Getty Images)
Donald Trump Jr. (photo: Getty Images)

Where the Heck Did the Term "Collusion" Come From?

By Victoria Clark, Lawfare

02 July 18


n the June 21 episode of Preet Bharara’s podcast, “Stay Tuned with Preet,” a listener called in to ask about the legal meaning of the word “collusion.” Bharara and his two guests were quick to set the record straight; the term collusion, despite it frequent use, has no actual legal definition outside of antitrust law. Instead, Bharara raised a different question for his guests: If collusion has no legal meaning in the context of the Russia investigation, then “why has the word … captured everyone’s attention?” What’s more, how did a word with no legal relevance to the case become so associated with the Trump-Russia allegations?

Bharara and his two guests spent a few minutes tossing around different possibilities. Former White House counterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco suggested that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s February 2018 indictment charging 13 Russian individuals and entities with conspiracy might have put the concept in play. Former New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram brought it back further to Rod Rosenstein’s May 2017 letter appointing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. But the trio failed to come up with a definitive answer, admitting that they just didn’t have a firm sense of where the word came from.

I do.

Their conversation prompted me do some digging on the intellectual history of the word “collusion” in the context of L’Affaire Russe, how it got injected into the bloodstream of the conversation, and how it has come to so dominate discussion of Trump-Russia matters that the president can simply tweet “NO COLLUSION!” to convey a huge amount of meaning to his supporters and opponents alike. How did the word “collusion” get introduced into the public lexicon? And who is initially responsible for introducing it? The answer, it turns out, goes back to July of 2016 at the Democratic National Convention.

On July 22, 2016, Wikileaks released more than 19,000 emails from top members of the Democratic National Committee. Two days after the release, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook told CNN that, according to “experts,” Russian state actors had stolen the emails from the DNC and were releasing them through Wikileaks “for the purpose of actually helping Donald Trump.” 

Mook did not use the word “collusion,” but the press, in reporting his comments, did. Within the hour, in an article timestamped at 9:55 a.m., the Washington Examiner reported that Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr, had responded to Mook’s allegations and “vigorously denied any kind of collusion between Trump Sr. and the Russian president.” (To be clear, Manafort denied “any ties” between Putin and the Trump campaign, and Donald Trump Jr. criticized Mook for “lie after lie.” Neither one of them mentioned “collusion.”) Ninety minutes later, at 11:27 a.m., ABC News repeated what it termed Mook’s “allegation of collusion between the campaign and Russia.” And three hours later, at approximately 12:35 p.m., Bernie Sanders’s campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “If there was some kind of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence or Russian hackers, that clearly has to be dealt with.”

From there it was off to the races. Over the next two weeks, the word “collusion” was used hundreds of times by politicians like Martin O’Malley and media personalities such as Trevor Noah.

The term caught on, I think, because it captured the general suspicion that the campaign was somehow in on the hack or knowingly benefiting from it while carefully eliding the fact that no tangible evidence had yet emerged tying the Trump campaign to the Kremlin. (Remember that news of the Trump Tower meeting and other contacts between the campaign and Russian actors had not yet become public.)

After this initial spurt, the collusion frenzy tapered off. Through August and September the word appeared only sporadically in the press, as other stories edged out the Trump-Russia narrative for dominance in the campaign. But when Wikileaks published more than 50,000 emails from Clinton’s campaign chairman in October of 2016, the term had a renaissance of sorts.

The popularity of the term continued to wax and wane throughout the final months of 2016. When a big story would break about Trump, the campaign, or Clinton’s emails, the word “collusion” would appear in headlines. Not every story described the relationship as collusion. Some referred to it as “ties” with Russia. Others questioned whether Trump was “coordinating” with Putin. Collusion had not yet become the de facto term to describe the Russia connection. But it was very much in the mix.

On Dec. 9, 2016, the Washington Post reported that the CIA had concluded that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in order to aid the Trump campaign. Although the Post did not mention the word “collusion” in its article, other media outlets such as the Economist, the Guardian, and CNN included the term when they picked up the story. After that day, the use of the word “collusion” spiked dramatically. It became the universally accepted term to describe any potential relationship between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. Even the individuals under investigation bought into the use of the word. In July of 2017, for example, Jared Kushner told reporters “Let me be very clear: I did not collude with Russia.” And in September of 2017, Donald Trump Jr. testified before Senate investigators “I did not collude with any foreign government.”

It’s probably here to stay, despite its being a legal non sequitur. As recently as Thursday morning, President Trump took time out of his day to remind the public that “There was no Collusion.” your social media marketing partner


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-7 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-07-02 09:50
This is good. "Collusion" is the media's term. The proper term would be "conspiracy" but the media has already given that word the meaning of "hoax" as in the "conspiracy theories" that the moon was faked. Whenever the word "conspiracy" appears in the media is always carries the suggestion of untruth. It was actually the CIA which gave the orders to the US major media to use "conspiracy" in this way.

"Collusion" is a good "magic word" for the brain damaged masses of America. Edward Bernays in his book "Propaganda" from the 1920s says that one function of mass media is to create and circulate "magic words" that suggest to the masses a lot more than they really mean. "Collusion" is a term of propaganda, something that makes the Mueller witch hunt seem to have real substance.

Mueller's actual indictments use the term "conspiracy" since there's a whole encyclopedia of "conspiracy" crimes.

Well now, at least one myth is cleared up. Put this one on the shelf and forget it.
0 # Farafalla 2018-07-03 23:20
I will put it on the shelf and forget about it like I do your posts on RSN.
+2 # BetaTheta 2018-07-04 12:45
This is still mere semantics and distraction. When and if charges are brought, they will be for conspiracy, obstruction, etc.

Love your own "magic" phrase "witch hunt." Not a term of propaganda?
-2 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-07-05 11:26
Yes, Mueller won't use the term "collusion." He will use conspiracy. Unfortunately that is a crime, even when there is no underlying criminal act.

I love the motion the defense made to the judge in the Petersburg 13 case. The charge was (among others) "conspiracy to defraud the United State." They asked the judge to dismiss the conspiracy charge because the underlying act was only the exercise of free speech on the internet. I've not read the judge's reply.

"Witch hunt" is a propaganda term.
+6 # ericlipps 2018-07-02 13:06
Aaaand there you go again, parroting your guy Trump's rhetoric. "Witch hunt, witch hunt, witch hunt"--say it over and over and hope it sticks with people who wouldn't already believe the Donald if he said the sun is blue.
-10 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-07-02 14:00
So, if the media can disseminate its "magic words," why can't we all. Thanks for passing it on -- "witch hund," "witch hunt, "which hunt?"

We are in a propaganda war and it is a war of magic words.
-6 # dquandle 2018-07-02 13:07
Collusion: What the DNC, Hillary, and Hillary "Democrats" and toadies engaged in with longtime allies in repression, the CIA, NSA, and FBI, in an attempt to start WWIII. Collusion.
+2 # Caliban 2018-07-02 19:33
No, # dquandle -- I believe what you describe is called "fantasy".
0 # dotlady 2018-07-02 13:53
Maybe better collusion than collision?
Remember the old saying "Better Red than Dead"? This has a whole new meaning today in our country.
+11 # Kootenay Coyote 2018-07-02 14:00
/Collusion/ has always been a real word. Don't let common ignorance delude you.
+4 # BetaTheta 2018-07-02 15:32
Quite right, Kootenay. Merriam-Webster : Collusion: secret agreement or cooperation, especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose.

That is perfectly clear English, and all the nit-picking about its legal status is mere pickle smoke designed to obfuscate and divert. The press (and Trump) are perfectly free to use the word up until indictments and/or convictions permit them to employ “conspiracy.”
+3 # FarMor 2018-07-02 17:53
Yes, collusion is a real word and has varied colloquial interpretations . It is not, however, a legal term of art as is conspiracy which has a very precise definition in law.
0 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-07-03 17:11
farmore -- yes, collusion is only a crime in business. That's because business are supposed to compete in a free, fair, and open market. When business collude, they kill the free market. People are free to collude in all other ares of life -- and they do it very often.

See Nomi Prins' new book on this very subject: "Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World." She shows that the biggest banks "collude" every day and no one in the FBI or DOJ gives a damn. These are real crimes that destroy people's lives, but the FBI and DOJ just don't care.
+3 # dascher 2018-07-02 15:00
"Collusion" is an awfully big word for Mr. Trump. THREE syllables! And NINE letters! He must have it written on his forearm.
+5 # dotlady 2018-07-02 19:15
Why are we all passively colluding with the oil and gas industry to keep using fossil fuels when there is a better alternative? We are complicit in this - and there has been a conspiracy to keep us deluded and in collusion as long as possible.
-2 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-07-04 05:57
The "collusion" case suffered another set back yesterday as a DC federal court tossed out a case by DNC funders against Trump, Stone, and Wikileaks. Here the term is "conspired""

Judge tosses suit alleging Trump campaign conspired with Russia in DNC hack

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit alleging that President Donald Trump's campaign and former Trump adviser Roger Stone conspired with Russia and WikiLeaks to publish hacked Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 presidential race.

U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle said in a ruling Tuesday evening that the suit's efforts to tie the Trump campaign and Stone's alleged actions to the nation's capital were too flimsy for the case to proceed in a Washington, D.C., court.
[end quote]

Mount Collusion is becoming like Mount Everest, very hard to climb.

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