You are here

Using Occam's Razor To Cut Through the Claim That There Was No Collusion Between Trump and Russia

Submitted by Robin Messing on Sun, 09/16/2018 - 2:19pm

RealClearPolitics posted Hugh Hewitt's interview with Bob Woodward under the headline, "Woodward: No Evidence Of Trump-Russia Collusion, I Searched For Two Years".  And indeed, the following exchange did occur between Hewitt and Woodward.

 

"Very last question, Bob Woodward, I just want to confirm, at the end of two years of writing this book, this intensive effort, you saw no effort, you, personally, had no evidence of collusion or espionage by the president presented to you?" Hewitt asked.

 

"That is correct," Woodward said. 

 

This is, on its face, a stunning statement. It needs to be examined more closely.

First, as the old aphorism goes, "Absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence." If there was absolutely NO evidence of collusion, we still couldn't completely rule out the possibility, but it would not be worth spending time and money investigating it. But despite Woodward's statement, there is more than enough circumstantial evidence to make an investigation worthwhile.

Second, the headline of the RealClear Politics article, as well as their written summary of the interview, is somewhat misleading. RealClearPolitics embedded the nearly 33-minute long interview in their article. The quote cited above is from around 30:45 in the recording. Immediately after Woodward says "That is correct" he also adds that "the answer to that question, where does it lie? Not in the United States. It lies in Russia." He then said that he would like to have gone to Russia to search for the answer, but stated that he would never make it back to the United States if he went. The RealClear Politics article was misleading because it did not include this caveat in either its title or in the article.

Before looking at the claim that Woodward saw no evidence of collusion, we must consider two facts about "evidence".  First, there are levels or degrees of evidence. A plaintiff must prove her case by the preponderance of the evidence to win most civil court trials-- that is, the plaintiff must have enough evidence to prove there is a greater than 50% chance that the defendant violated the law. In some civil cases the plaintiff must prove her  case with clear and convincing evidence.--that is, with considerably stronger evidence that the defendant broke the law.  The burden is even heavier when a defendant is facing a criminal trial. The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty before it can jail her. In addition to degrees of evidence there is direct evidence and circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence that it was raining would involve actually seeing it raining. Circumstantial evidence that it had rained would involve hearing a whether forecast predicting rain overnight and waking up to find that there were puddles everywhere outside. We should not minimize the importance of circumstantial evidence when evaluating a claim. Even though evidence is circumstantial, the right type of circumstantial evidence can be as powerful as direct evidence when proving a claim.

Woodward was not asked to clarify what he meant when he said he found no evidence of collusion. Presumably, because of the severe political and criminal implications involved, he would have been talking about seeing evidence proving collusion beyond a reasonable doubt. And I will agree--we do not have enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump colluded with Russia to win the election. But we have more than enough circumstantial evidence to say that the preponderance of the evidence points towards collusion. When we look at the evidence and then use Occam's Razor, it seems like there is clear and convincing evidence that Trump colluded with Russia to steal the election or, at the very least, Trump did something very illegal such as laundering money for the Russians that Putin can and has used to blackmail Trump. If Trump colluded he should be impeached and tried for treason. If Putin has information that he can blackmail Trump with, then Trump should at least be impeached.

 

Evidence of Collusion Between the Trump Campaign and Russia

 

  1. Donald Trump continuously asked the public during the campaign to visit WikiLeaks and read e-mail and documents that he KNEW WITH CERTAINTY WERE STOLEN from Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee. He SHOULD HAVE KNOWN they were stolen by Russia, but even if he didn’t, he knew they were stolen. Yet, he still mentioned WikiLeaks 164 times during the last month of the campaign. Thanks to Robert Mueller's recent indictment of 12 Russian military spies, we now know that the Russians created the internet persona named Guccifer 2.0 and that Guccifer 2.0 and Organization 1 worked together to ensure that the publication of the stolen emails would have the greatest possible impact.  (See paragraphs 47 - 49 of the indictment.) Though the indictment doesn't mention WikiLeaks by name, it is obvious from the indictment that Organization 1 is indeed WikiLeaks. Paragraph 44 of the indictment says that Guccifer 2.0 had written at least three messages to "a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald Trump" between August 15 and September 9, 2016. On August 21, 2016, Roger Stone tweeted "it will soon [be] the Podesta's time in a barrel".  Podesta's emails were published by WikiLeaks a month and a half after that tweet. Stone acknowledged that he was probably the unnamed person mentioned in the indictment
  2. We know that Donald Trump Jr. was in at least limited contact with WikiLeaks. We know that 15 minutes after WikiLeaks contacted him on October 12, 2016, Jr. tweeted out, "Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!" And two days later Jr. tweeted a link that WikiLeaks had given him in their October. 12 message. We also know that Jr. emailed Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and Brad Parscale to inform them he was in contact with WikiLeaks.
  3. Trump asked the Russians for help by asking them to release Hillary’s 30,000 missing emails. Note the date when Trump asked Russia to release Hillary's emails--July 27, 2016. Then note the following paragraph, taken from the 22nd point of Mueller's recent indictment of 12 Russian hackers.   


    The Conspirators spearphished individuals affiliated with the Clinton Campaign throughout the summer of 2016. For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

Is it just a coincidence that the Russians attempted to spearphish these accounts apparently within hours of Donald Trump's request?

 

 

 

  1. Rob Goldman sent Donald Trump Jr. an email on June 3, 2016 informing him that the government of Russia was interested in giving him dirt on Hillary, to which Jr responded, "I love it".  Jr. either received a call from or made a call to a blocked phone number while he was in the middle of arranging details of the meeting with Emin Agalarov. Who was speaking with Jr from behind the blocked phone number? Jr. testified that he couldn't remember, just as he testified that he couldn't remember whether he had even talked to Agalarov or whether he had left a message on Agalarov's answering service. (Funny, Agalarov had no trouble remembering that he talked to Jr. over the phone that day) But President Trump has used a blocked phone number, which raises the question of whether Jr. was talking to his Father to fill him in on details of the proposed Trump Tower meeting. Maybe it is just a coincidence that Jr. talked to someone with a blocked number while he was negotiating the details of the Trump Tower meeting with Emin Agalarov. But is it also a coincidence that he couldn't remember whether he had even talked to Agalarov?  Or that he couldn't remember who was on the other end of the blocked phone number?  
  1. Donald Trump promised to make a “major speech” about the Clintons only hours after the Trump Tower meeting between Team Trump and Team Russia was set.  They were disappointed when it turned out the Russians came empty-handed and Donald Trump did not give that major speech. Why did Trump promise to make a major announcement about Clinton and not deliver? Was he expecting that his team would get some dirt at the Trump Tower meeting but they failed to deliver the goods? Or was this just another coincidence?
  2. Point 34 of Mueller's recent indictment against 12 Russians notes that the Russians hacked data from the Democratic National Committee's analytics in September 2016. (Analytics are the voter models the campaign uses to decide where and when to devote campaign resources.) A very astute Twitter user named Julie, who goes by the handle @resisterhood, made some remarkable observations. She noted that the Trump campaign made a major shift in how it was targeting its advertising within a few weeks of Russia’s theft of the DNC’s analytics. She retweeted a tweet that Trump campaign operative Jason Miller wrote on October 7 saying that their decision to shift campaign resources was data-driven. Julie then noted

    It's not uncommon for a candidate to make some changes wrt advertising targets in the final weeks of a campaign, but in my experience a ~25% shift because you've suddenly identified "new battlegrounds" is...not typical

    She then asked,

    Coincidence? Maybe, but we know:
    -Russia hacked DNC analytics sometime in Sept
    -Early Oct, Trump campaign abruptly redirected their ad spending, claimed changes were "data driven"
    -New ad investments were heavily in states that narrowly handed Trump the electoral college


    Julie was right to ask if this was a coincidence. But as we have seen, this is not the first coincidence.  I encourage you to read Julie's remarkable thread and the many well-reasoned responses, particularly this tweet Julie cites fromfrom New York Times reporter, Maggie Haberman. It is one of the best threads that I have seen on Twitter.

  1. The Moscow Project has documented 82 contacts between Team Trump and Russia-linked operatives that members of Team Trump have tried to cover up. Why the secrecy if nothing nefarious was happening? That is a LOT of contacts to be hiding.
  2. Donald Trump almost never criticizes Putin. Despite the fact that our intelligence services agree with certainty that the Russians interfered with our 2016 elections, Trump has constantly denied or minimized, the possibility of that interference. Trump seems to believe Putin’s word that Russia did not sabotage our election over the analysis of our intelligence service AND THE SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE WHICH IS CONTROLLED BY REPUBLICANS. He has undermined NATO and attacked our allies in the European Union and Canada. He has made his displeasure of sanctions against Russia known. He has even hinted that he might be willing to recognize Russia’s grab of Crimea. And perhaps worst of all, in an unprecedented and universally condemned move, he considered letting Russian agents interrogate U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.  When asked if he would turn over our former Ambassador for questioning, Trump should not have just said "no". He should have said, "HELL NO, AND FUCK YOUR MOTHER!"  It is clear that Donald Trump is checking off nearly all the boxes on Vladimir Putin’s wish list.  This is not what someone who has been accused of colluding with the Russians would do if he wanted to dispel those accusations.  In fact, this is further evidence that Trump either feels like he owes something to the Russians or that the Russians have something they can use to blackmail him. It is obvious Trump does not want to PISS off Putin.
  3. Vyacheslav Nikonov, a member of Russia’s Duma, bragged that U.S. intelligence (services) “slept through while Russia elected a new U.S. president."
  4. FBI Special Agent Kevin Helson wrote an Affidavit In Support of an Application for a Criminal Complaint against Maria Butina.  In the 18th paragraph of his affidavit, Helson described a proposal that Butina sent to a U.S. person in March 2015. When reading the following excerpt about Butina's proposal, keep in mind that CPAC stands for Conservative Political Action Conference and GUN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION is obviously the NRA. Which means POLITICAL PARTY 1 has to be the Republican Party.

    The first line of the proposal reads, “Project Description ‘Diplomacy.”  It goes on to state a major U.S. political party [hereinafter “POLITICAL PARTY 1”] would likely obtain control over the U.S. government after the 2016 elections; that POLITICAL PARTY 1 is “traditionally associated with negative and aggressive foreign policy, particularly with regards to Russia. However, now with the right to negotiate seems best to build konstruktivnyh [sic] relations” and that “[c]entral place and influence in the [POLITICAL PARTY 1] plays the [GUN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION]. The [GUN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION] [is] the largest sponsor of the CPAC conference and other events.”

    Rachel Maddow asked some pointed questions about this passage during her July 16 show. (She talks about Butina between 11:03 and 16:36, especially 15:35-16:36)

    Why would somebody working for the Russian government believe in March of 2015 that the Republican Party was likely to obtain control over the U.S. government in the elections the following year in 2016? Why did she think that? Why did she think that enough to be so sure that she was going to predicate this whole influence operation over a period of years on that expected outcome? Also, why in the Spring of 2015 did she think she had the “right to negotiate”? Why would the Russian government believe in 2015 they had the right to negotiate what the positions of the Republican Party would be out of the 2016 elections?

 

  1. Donald Trump admitted that the purpose of the infamous Trump Tower meeting was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. Everyone with an IQ above a houseplant already knew that this was the reason for the meeting, but it is amazing to see that Trump would admit it.

     

 

  1. Trump's tweets look like the tweets of a guilty man who has SOMETHING to hide. Just look at how many times he has tweeted some variation on "No collusion".  Marvel at the number of times he shouts "Witch hunt" about the Mueller investigation. The phrase, "thou protesteth too much" springs to mind. Someone who was truly innocent would want Mueller to continue his investigation, knowing the results would clear his name. 

 

Still not convinced? Wow! You are one tough customer. Here is a segment from Rachel Maddow's July 16, 2018 show. Watch what she said between 1:36 and 3:36 or read the transcript immediately following the video.

 

 

Here is the most relevant excerpt from the transcript

 

But let me just say on this of all days, here`s why we have covered this story so intensely. Since it first became clear that there was something wrong and illicit and unexplained about the relationship between this particular foreign adversary and the unlikely rise of this unlikely politician who shocked everyone by winning the last U.S. presidential election – I mean, there was no explicable reason why as a presidential candidate, he would step with such excruciating care to avoid ever saying anything remotely negative or critical about Russia and its president.


There was no explicable reason why he would dig out of the vault a campaign chairman who had not worked in American politics for more than a generation but he had spent more than the past decade doing Vladimir Putin`s political bidding overseas in the former Soviet Union. There was no explicable reason to name a guy quite recently and quite literally caught up in a Russian spy ring in New York as one of his five foreign policy advisers, when this is a guy nobody had ever, ever heard of. There was no explicable reason to keep secret the fact that he did in fact have pending business deals in Russia during the campaign.


I mean, from a man who loves to brag about even the smallest and most unimpressive business endeavors, right, his stakes, his vodka, his terrible wine, right, there was no explicable reason why he wouldn`t brag that on the day of one of the early Republican presidential primary debates, that very day, he had signed a letter of intent to build the tallest building in Russia. There was no explicable reason why he wouldn`t admit to that.


There was no explicable reason why the Trump campaign would intervene in the Republican Party`s national platform to make it more pro-Russia and then cover up their tracks and deny that they`d had anything to do with it. There was no explicable reason why so many Russians attended the Trump inauguration. There was no explicable reason why he surprised everyone by inviting the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador into the Oval Office with no notice, no U.S. media and apparently no limit on his willingness to disclose to those Russian officials codeword level intelligence from our closest foreign allies.

There was no explicable reason for any of those things, unless you were willing to believe the worst. And honestly, who wants to believe the worst.

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of evidence pointing towards collusion between Team Trump and Russia. And it might not contain proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Donald Trump and his campaign illegally colluded with Russia to steal the election. But we can see a lot of smoke pouring out from behind the door leading to the mystery of the 2016 election. Whether that smoke is from fire, a smoking gun, or Puff the Magic Dragon is difficult to say. But there are just TOO MANY DAMN COINCIDENCES and things that make you go "hmmm" to dismiss the possibility that there was collusion between Team Trump and Russia. 

 

 

Is Putin Blackmailing Trump?

 

It looks like Putin has something over on Donald Trump. Donald Trump looked weak next to Putin. A growing number of Americans are beginning to wonder if Putin is blackmailing Trump. It seems unlikely that the infamous pee tape mentioned in Christopher Steele's Dossier is real. But what about money laundering? Wired Magazine recently published a detailed report examining just how money laundering works.  The report concludes:

That so many of the transactions and behaviors of the Trump business empire and Michael Cohen’s empire appear to hew so closely to the well-known patterns and stages of money laundering deeply troubles [Arit] Sharma [a counter-terrorist financial expert who used to work at the Treasury Department].

 

“It falls into fact patterns that we’ve seen in other areas of Russian and Eastern European organized crime,” he says. “We’re staring at a government—that goes right to the top—that engages in very way of doing business and the exact same fact patterns that we set these tools up to combat. That’s mind-boggling to me.”

 

And if Trump did launder money it is likely that Putin has got something he can use to blackmail Trump with. Adam Davidson describes the systemic use of Kompramat (the sistema) that informally regulates both business and politics in Russia in his must-read article, "A Theory of Trump Kompramat". Keith Darden, an international-relations professor at American University, told Davidson that Russia is a "blackmail state". Davidson writes:

The scenario that, to my mind, makes the most sense of the given facts and requires the fewest fantastical leaps is that, a decade or so ago, Trump, naïve, covetous, and struggling for cash, may have laundered money for a business partner from the former Soviet Union or engaged in some other financial crime. This placed him, unawares, squarely within sistema, where he remained, conducting business with other members of a handful of overlapping Central Asian networks. Had he never sought the Presidency, he may never have had to come to terms with these decisions. But now he is much like everyone else in sistema. He fears there is kompromat out there—maybe a lot of it—but he doesn’t know precisely what it is, who has it, or what might set them off.

 

Trump and many of his defenders have declared his businesses, including those in the former Soviet Union, to be off-limits to the Mueller investigation. They argue that the special counsel should focus only on the possibility of explicit acts of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. This neatly avoids the reality of sistema. As Pavlovsky wrote, “Under Putin, sistema has become a method for making deals among businesses, powerful players, and the people. Business has not taken over the state, nor vice versa; the two have merged in a union of total and seamless corruption.”

 

Has Donald Trump laundered money for the Russians? Is that why he won't release his taxes? Something just doesn't seem right. And it is not just Americans who think so. Even some commentators on Russian state TV have questioned Trump's strange performance at Helsinki. One host on the Russian show, "60 Minutes" remarked, "It is very bizarre, you can’t bash your own country like that – especially when you’re the president." To which co-host Olga Skabeeva replied, "When Trump says our relations are bad because of American foolishness and stupidity, he really smells like an agent of the Kremlin" (Translation provided by Russian media analyst, Julia Davis). Davis wrote a detailed article that looked at Russians bragging about stealing the election or owning Trump. It is well worth reading.

 

 

Using Occam's Razor To Slice Through the Bullshit

Occam’s Razor is a powerful tool that can help us weigh the validity of an explanation. When you have two possible explanations for a phenomena, the simpler one is usually more likely. Or to put it another way, the more complex the explanation, the less likely it is to be right.

If I awake one morning and see human-shaped footprints in the snow, I can hypothesize a human was walking in the snow. Or, I could hypothesize that a Martian had created cast of two human feet, attached them to sticks, and pressed them into the snow while riding a hover board a few feet off the ground. Which is more likely?  Occam's Razor tells us to reject the second claim, just as it tells us to reject any innocent explanation for the evidence presented above.

There are several ways which we can frame claims to exonerate Trump.

  1.  There is NO evidence--and by no evidence I mean not a scintilla of evidence--that Trump colluded with Russia to steal the elections.
  2. There is not enough evidence to establish collusion by the preponderance of the evidence standard.
  3. There is not enough evidence to prove collusion beyond a reasonable doubt.
  4. There is NO evidence to prove that either Trump colluded with Russia or that Trump has done something seriously illegal or extremely embarrassing that Putin is using to blackmail Trump.

 

I have presented enough evidence here to reject the first claim without further consideration. Occam's Razor suggests we should reject the second claim. In order to believe that the preponderance of the evidence does not point towards collusion, we must come up with a better explanation for all the facts presented above. The theory that Putin was blackmailing Trump would certainly explain the eighth, and twelfth, and possibly the seventh point above. But Occam's Razor suggests the points 1 - 6 and 9 - 11 fit more closely with collusion than with blackmail.

It is also theoretically possible that the President was not involved with collusion, but many other members of his campaign were. Under this Mr. Magoo theory there were colluders all around Trump but he was just too oblivious to see what was going on. But this theory is not as good at explaining the third and fifth points as the theory that Donald Trump was in on the collusion as well. Reports that Donald Trump was a micromanager who obsessed over details do not square well with this theory either. And according to Michael Wolff's controversial book, Fire and Fury, Steve Bannon had this to say about the Trump Tower meeting between Team Trump and Team Russia: "The chance that Don. Jr did not walk these Jumos up to his father’s office on the 26th floor is zero". It is reasonable to be skeptical about the claims in Wolff's book. However, Bannon has not disputed that he said this.

I will concede that we do not have enough evidence publicly presented to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump colluded with Russia to steal the election. But that is one of the major reasons behind the Mueller investigation. We donot have that evidence, but Mueller might have it or might be on the way to getting it.

It is extremely hard to come up with a theory that would exclude both collusion and blackmail to explain all the evidence presented above. Maybe someone more imaginative than I am can come up with one. I cannot. And whatever imaginative theory one comes up with, it is hard to believe it will withstand the test of Occam's Razor. 


Bonus: This Twitter thread by former Special Counsel for the Defense Department, Ryan Goodman provides further reason to question Woodward's claim that there is no evidence of collusion. 

 

Update: 9/24/18: Jane Mayer wrote a lengthy but important article entitled "How Russia Helped Swing the Election for Trump". This is one of the most important articles about the 2016 election I have read. It makes a convincing case that the Russians did more than just meddle in our election--they probably made the difference between Hillary Clinton being elected and Donald Trump. The article is long but essential. Read it!