When is collusion impeachable? To answer that one has to ask what is collusion? Andrew McCarthy, a former DOJ prosecutor who has been following the Mueller probe with a series of incisive and illuminating articles, apparently got a little tongue-tied on television last week and didn’t distinguish clearly enough the difference between collusion and conspiracy, for which he apologized for with an article on the difference in National Review.

Collusion is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as:

(An) agreement between people to act together secretly or illegally in order to deceive or cheat someone.

Here’s a legal definition from the online Law Dictionary:

A secret arrangement between two or more persons, whose interests are apparently conflicting, to make use of the forms and proceedings of law in order to defraud a third person, or to obtain that which justice would not give them, by deceiving a court or it officers.

Unfortunately, certainly in the legal sense, collusion seems to be an impeachable offense if the conflicting parties happen to be a presidential campaign and the intelligence services of a rival foreign power.

So, where do you draw the defining line in order to say: they crossed this line? They conspired with Russian intelligence to gain an advantage on their domestic political opponent. Let’s start with a few facts.

  • Christopher Steele is a former British spy. While being one of America’s closest allies is not the same as being a GRU hacker, Steele relied on second or third hand accounts by Russian sources of the allegations about then-Candidate Trump.
  • The FBI and the DOJ withheld key information from the FISA court regarding the warrant to spy on Carter Page.
  • Fusion GPS not only worked with Steele, it also worked with Russian clients to lobby against the Magnitsky Act which imposes sanctions on Russian figures linked to the Kremlin in response to the murder of a Russian whistleblower (Magnitsky) on a 9-figure tax fraud reportedly committed by Putin’s regime. And were paid in part by Hillary’s campaign and the DNC possibly.
  • Natalia Veselnitskaya of the Trump Tower meeting was also lobbying against the Magnitsky Act.
  • Hillary Clinton may have been part of a pay to play scheme where the Secretary of State may have eased the way for a uranium company transaction involving the Russians with her husband Bill Clinton gaining a $500,000 gig speaking in Moscow, and the Clinton Foundation gaining donations as well. A case for quid pro quo certainly seems plausible.
  • Donald Trump Jr. and likely Donald Trump himself were eager and glad to get dirt on Hillary from a Russian source.

So as Paul Manafort has his lucrative and shady business dealings as a lobbyist dragged into the spotlight in court, one has to ask, where should the impeachment guns be pointing? Everywhere? And if that’s your answer, your drain-the-swamp-with-impeachments-galore tactic risks trivializing the power of impeachment. Doesn’t it?

Maybe not. It seems to me that impeachment should be handled cautiously. Unlike Kenneth Starr’s case with Bill Clinton which was also a witch-hunt, regardless of what you think of Slick Willy as family man. But it may be that by the time all the investigations are finally over, both sides of the aisle and especially their base supporters will be clamoring for impeachments of figures on the opposite side. What will impeachment mean then? What will trust in government mean?

Nixon’s impeachment lowered trust and changed America. But America was already changing and the cultural divides that brought Nixon to power and helped feed his paranoia are back in play in 2018 and we may be headed towards another impeachment. It’s just hard to say exactly who will end up impeached in the end. And it’s even harder to say what kind of backlash this will have in the slightly longer run.

And we have some midterm elections to get through in slightly less than 100 days. Which will be a real challenge for Mueller’s team. When do they release their report, and according to what ethical guidelines? Read Byron York’s piece in the Washington Examiner where he compares Kenneth Starr’s mistakes to the choices Mueller (who is obviously keenly aware of his fellow prosecutor’s role in Clinton’s impeachment trial) will have to make between now and the midterm elections. In fact, likely between now and Labor Day.

And Mueller will have to do it with factions on both sides of the House restless for impeachment. Good luck with that Bob.