Two former CIA agents on Wednesday ran through the case for collusion between Donald Trump associates and Russian operatives during the 2016 election, explaining how the scheme might have transpired.
Penning an op-ed for the New York Times aptly titled, “Oh, Wait. Maybe It Was Collusion,” former chief of station for the CIA John Sipher and former CIA chief of Russian operations Steve Hall argue not only was the Russian government “running some sort of intelligence operation involving the Trump campaign, but also that it is impossible to rule out the possibility of collusion between the two.”
Pointing to their combined years of experience with the CIA, the pair note Russian intelligence probably launched a “multilayered” attack on the 2016 presidential campaign “as well as an effort to recruit insiders to help them over time.”
“The two are not mutually exclusive,” they say.
“It is entirely plausible, for example, that the original Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee’s computer servers was an effort simply to collect intelligence and get an idea of the plans of the Democratic Party and its presidential candidate,” the pair surmise, adding Russian operatives from there might have noticed an opportunity to infiltrate the election through Donald Trump Jr.’s stated willingness to collude with the Russian government.
Referring to the intermediary who set up the now-infamous meeting between Trump Jr. and a Russian emissary, the two former intelligence officers argue Russia might have used Rob Goldstone to approach the Trump campaign and “would have seen very little downside to trying to recruit someone on the Trump team—a big fish.”
“If the fish bit and they were able to reel it in, the email from Mr. Goldstone could remain hidden and, since it was from an acquaintance, would be deniable if found,” the pair note, pointing out the is "exactly what the Trump team is doing now.”
“Perhaps the most telling piece of information may be the most obvious,” the op-ed continues. “Donald Trump himself made numerous statements in support of Russia, Russian intelligence and WikiLeaks during the campaign. At the same time, Mr. Trump and his team have gone out of their way to hide contacts with Russians and lied to the public about it.”
Sipher and Hall then note Trump’s repeated attacks on the very institutions deployed to investigate potential ties between his campaign and Russia.
“He fired his FBI director James Comey, criticized and bullied his attorney general and deputy attorney general, denigrated the FBI and the CIA, and assails the news media, labeling anything he dislikes ‘fake news,’” they write.
“Innocent people don’t tend to behave this way.”
Read the full op-ed at the New York Times.