It’s not illegal to talk to someone who lives or works in Russia, but you wouldn’t know that if you were reading The New York Times last Friday.
The newspaper published an article titled “Mueller Report Shows Depth of Connections Between Trump Campaign and Russians,” and details in a massive chart all of the contacts — no matter how insignificant or one-sided — Trump campaign officials had with Russians. The lede paragraph of the Times article makes it clear they want it to look like the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, as it states: “Donald J. Trump and 18 of his associates had at least 140 contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks, or their intermediaries, during the 2016 campaign and presidential transition, according to a New York Times analysis.” (Emphasis original.)
“At least 140 contacts” sounds like a lot, but the Times counted many insignificant contacts to boost its number.
The paper doesn’t note that none of these contacts were illegal, and gives no context — such as, whether they had as many contacts with the Chinese or the British, or whether the “contact” was utterly meaningless. For example, one of the “contacts” between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian happened when “a Russian social media executive” reached out to him to discuss “setting up a campaign page.” No further details are given.
Did Jr. respond? What does this mean?
Another “contact” — this one counted against President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner* — was an introduction to the Russian ambassador. Kushner was likely introduced to a lot of ambassadors. It’s not uncommon and it’s not illegal.
Many of the “contacts” happened during the transition period, when it’s common for officials for the incoming administration to meet with foreign leaders and ambassadors to get the lay of the land. It’s part of the continuation of government. A new administration doesn’t just come in and start figuring things out; they spend the months between the election and inauguration doing this legwork.
All of Gen. Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russians, according to the Times, happened during this period, yet they’re portrayed as seedy. Many of Roger Sone’s contacts were with WikiLeaks, which until 2016 was an outlet loved by the Democrats for their exposure of information that hurt Republicans. Now it’s an agent of the Russian government and a very bad group.
On Twitter, the Times used Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report to bolster their conspiracy claims, explaining “We scrubbed through the Mueller report and found at least 30 new instances where Trump and his associates had contacts with Russians.”
“Pick up today's print NYTimes for a two-page graphic that lays out all 140+ contacts,” the outlet added, with a picture of a chart that might as well be posted to a conspiracy theorist’s wall.
Nothing in the Times report is illegal, it’s all meant to make it look like Trump and his associates skated on the collusion narrative.
It’s likely that Hillary Clinton’s campaign had a lot of contacts with Russians as well, and both campaigns probably met with many other foreign nationals. The Times just can’t admit that the two years it spent beating the “collusion” drum were for nothing, and is now just spouting conspiracy theories.
*Jared Kushner owned the New York Observer when I was brought on as a contributor.