The latest headlines regarding the Trump administration and Russia report that Robert Mueller is investigating meetings to establish back channel communications with Russia in January 2017. The Washington Post reports:
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has gathered evidence that a secret meeting in Seychelles just before the inauguration of Donald Trump was an effort to establish a back channel between the incoming administration and the Kremlin — apparently contradicting statements made to lawmakers by one of its participants, according to people familiar with the matter.
In January 2017, Erik Prince, the founder of the private security company Blackwater, met with a Russian official close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and later described the meeting to congressional investigators as a chance encounter that was not a planned discussion of U.S.-Russia relations.
A witness cooperating with Mueller has told investigators the meeting was set up in advance so that a representative of the Trump transition could meet with an emissary from Moscow to discuss future relations between the countries, according to the people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
Maybe we have more cases of people in the Trump administration lying about their contacts with Russia. There is certainly a long list of examples of this. The connection to Blackwater is of some interest, but not terribly surprising considering that Erik Prince had a loose connection to the incoming administration, being the brother of Betsy DeVos.
Besides multiple lies involving members of the Trump administration, adding to questions of obstruction of justice, there are serious questions regarding money laundering and possibly other financial crimes. Where the Russiagate hysteria falls apart is with the claims from many Democrats that collusion between Trump and Russia altered the election result.
To date the claims that Russia altered the election result have been falling apart and there has been no evidence of any successful collusion. While Russians did entice Donald Trump, Jr. with claims of information on Russia, showing that he would have had no problems with such collusion, it turned out that Russia did not actually have information to provide at the Trump Tower meeting.
There have been a number of other stories regarding attempts to establish Backchannel Communications between members of the Trump administration and Russia just prior to the inauguration. Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI about meeting the Russian ambassador in December 2016 but, as historian Jackson Lears recently wrote, “This is the sort of backchannel diplomacy that routinely occurs during the interim between one administration and the next. It is not a sign of collusion.”
There was also the report that Jared Kushner had attempted to set up backchannel communications between the Trump transition team and Russia after the election. However, if there was any nefarious goal here, it was suspected to involve Kushner’s financial problems with his Manhattan property.
The question which reports such as this raise is that, if there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the campaign, why were there so many efforts to establish backchannel communications after the election? If there was collusion before the election, they would have already needed to have had some means of communication before the election.
While such attempts to communicate with Russia just prior to the inauguration may or may not have been for nefarious purposes, maybe Mueller is onto a crime here with attempts at establishing backchannel communications with Russia before the election–especially with individuals lying about such attempts. However, it makes little sense to both claim that Trump was successfully conspiring with Russia during the campaign, and that crimes were committed in attempting to establish backchannel communications after the election.