Trump says collusion is not a crime as first Russia probe trial begins

WASHINGTON, July 31 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump stepped up his onslaught on federal Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russia and the 2016 U.S. election on Tuesday, saying that his campaign did not collude with Moscow but that collusion is not a crime anyway.

Trump launched his new attack hours before his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was due to go on trial on tax and bank fraud charges in Virginia. As the first trial in the 14-month Russia probe, the case throws a fresh spotlight on an investigation that has dogged Trump's presidency.

Mueller is investigating whether Trump campaign officials worked with Moscow to try to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election, something commonly referred to as collusion by the media and public officials.

"Collusion is not a crime, but that doesn't matter because there was No Collusion (except by Crooked Hillary and the Democrats)!" Trump wrote on Twitter.

While collusion is not a technical legal charge, Mueller is probing any coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, and could bring conspiracy charges if he finds that any campaign member worked with Russia to break U.S. law.

Trump has denied any collusion for months. On Tuesday, he echoed his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who said in television interviews on Monday that collusion is not a crime. The strategy may be the latest in Trump's efforts to strip legitimacy from the Mueller probe, which he has long denounced as a "witch hunt."

More on the Mueller investigation:

33 PHOTOS
Trump's tweets about the Mueller Russia probe
See Gallery
Trump's tweets about the Mueller Russia probe
So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were “leaked” to the media. No questions on Col… https://t.co/T2n7SAWgJp
There was no Collusion (it is a Hoax) and there is no Obstruction of Justice (that is a setup & trap). What there i… https://t.co/WU8JFuWLJi
House Intelligence Committee rules that there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump Campaign and Russia. As I have bee… https://t.co/n4809kuVx3
Just Out: House Intelligence Committee Report released. “No evidence” that the Trump Campaign “colluded, coordinate… https://t.co/3erasoPL4N
This memo totally vindicates “Trump” in probe. But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on. Their was no Collusion an… https://t.co/GPYj4JbKgN
It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened! Witch Hunt!
This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!
You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history - led by some very bad and conflicted people! #MAGA
“Russians had no compromising information on Donald Trump” @FoxNews Of course not, because there is none, and neve… https://t.co/R9sniNq1ar
Congratulations to @ABC News for suspending Brian Ross for his horrendously inaccurate and dishonest report on the… https://t.co/wEVP4iGN6n
The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was base… https://t.co/oMCKEA7WmJ
The 13 Angry Democrats in charge of the Russian Witch Hunt are starting to find out that there is a Court System in… https://t.co/W32TtSNOrw
A must watch: Legal Scholar Alan Dershowitz was just on @foxandfriends talking of what is going on with respect to… https://t.co/EZ7cdgtUUo
A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!
A complete Witch Hunt!
The Russia Witch Hunt is rapidly losing credibility. House Intelligence Committee found No Collusion, Coordination… https://t.co/MMfLEunjG6
The single greatest Witch Hunt in American history continues. There was no collusion, everybody including the Dems… https://t.co/j7rc1QKCLw
James Comey Memos just out and show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION. Also, he leaked classif… https://t.co/YfMYBrTkza
As the phony Russian Witch Hunt continues, two groups are laughing at this excuse for a lost election taking hold, Democrats and Russians!
...case against him & now wants to clear his name by showing "the false or misleading testimony by James Comey, John Brennan..." Witch Hunt!
The MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN agenda is doing very well despite the distraction of the Witch Hunt. Many new jobs, high business enthusiasm,..
Jared Kushner did very well yesterday in proving he did not collude with the Russians. Witch Hunt. Next up, 11 year old Barron Trump!
When James Clapper himself, and virtually everyone else with knowledge of the witch hunt, says there is no collusion, when does it end?
My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!
Despite the phony Witch Hunt going on in America, the economic & jobs numbers are great. Regulations way down, jobs and enthusiasm way up!
A total WITCH HUNT with massive conflicts of interest!
Is this Phony Witch Hunt going to go on even longer so it wrongfully impacts the Mid-Term Elections, which is what… https://t.co/7LtsbGyV80
The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was base… https://t.co/oMCKEA7WmJ
Much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation, headed up by the all Democr… https://t.co/eA1AtTPv49
“Special Council is told to find crimes, whether a crime exists or not. I was opposed to the selection of Mueller t… https://t.co/KYsOPqiVBG
I have agreed with the historically cooperative, disciplined approach that we have engaged in with Robert Mueller (… https://t.co/yjSuYhmzJb
Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? An… https://t.co/wKNAVhWJcz
If I wanted to fire Robert Mueller in December, as reported by the Failing New York Times, I would have fired him.… https://t.co/wi7FDNjqK7
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Legal experts said that working with a foreign national with the intent of influencing a U.S. election could violate multiple laws.

A campaign finance law makes it a crime to solicit a "contribution or donation of money or other thing of value" from a foreign national in connection with an election, which could include opposition research.

"Collusion is basically a partnership in crime, which is conspiracy," said Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor and a law professor at George Washington University.

Trump has denied that the campaign worked with Russia to try to engineer his victory against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and bristles at the suggestion he might owe his White House victory to Moscow.

Russia has denied the finding of U.S. intelligence agencies last year that it interfered to sway the election to Trump.

11 PHOTOS
Twelve Russian intelligence officers indicted in Mueller probe
See Gallery
Twelve Russian intelligence officers indicted in Mueller probe
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 13: U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (C) holds a news conference at the Department of Justice July 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. Rosenstein announced indictments against 12 Russian intelligence agents for hacking computers used by the Democratic National Committee, the Hillary Clinton campaign, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other organizations. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein pauses while announcing grand jury indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, U.S., July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
A copy of the grand jury indictment against 12 Russian intelligence officers is seen after the indictments were filed in U.S. District Court by prosecutors working as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation�n Washington, U.S., July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein departs a news conference after announcing grand jury indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, at the Justice Department in Washington, U.S., July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
The U.S. Department of Justice headquarters building is seen after Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced grand jury indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation in Washington, U.S., July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein pauses while announcing grand jury indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, U.S., July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announces grand jury indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, U.S., July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
A copy of the grand jury indictment against 12 Russian intelligence officers is seen after being filed in U.S. District Court by prosecutors working as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation�in Washington, U.S., July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announces grand jury indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation as he appears with Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Ed O?Callaghan during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, U.S., July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein takes questions after announcing grand jury indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, U.S., July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 13: U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (C) holds a news conference at the Department of Justice July 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. Rosenstein announced indictments against 12 Russian intelligence agents for hacking computers used by the Democratic National Committee, the Hillary Clinton campaign, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other organizations. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
 

"As a matter of law, the central question is not whether members of the Trump campaign coordinated or colluded with Russia, but whether they conspired with Russians to break a criminal statute or they broke the law themselves," the Council of Foreign Relations wrote in a background paper.

That could include hacking into Democratic Party computers, it said. "'Collusion' and 'coordination' are not legally relevant terms, but they are often used as shorthand to refer to such a criminal conspiracy," it said.

Manafort, 69, faces 18 criminal counts, which center on allegations that he hid much of the $60 million he earned working for a pro-Russian politician in Ukraine in undisclosed overseas bank accounts and failed to pay taxes on it.

A Manafort conviction would give momentum to Mueller, who has indicted or secured guilty pleas from 32 people and three companies since the probe started 14 months ago.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu Additional reporting by Jan Wolfe and Lisa Lambert Editing by Frances Kerry)

 

Read Full Story