Nick Ackerman, a former assistant special Watergate prosecutor, said Saturday that the "big enchilada" crime President Trump and his associates face in the Russia investigation is conspiracy, not collusion.
"I think the big enchilada here is the conspiracy to break into the Democratic National Committee in violation of the federal computer crime law and to use those emails to help Donald Trump get elected," Ackerman said on MSNBC. "All of that is motive as to why Donald Trump and others were endeavoring to obstruct the investigation, and why Donald Trump told [former FBI Director] James Comey to let the investigation on [former national security adviser Michael] Flynn go. All of this is going to come together in 2018."
Flynn was removed from the White House in February when it was revealed he misled Trump officials about his contact with the Russian ambassador. Comey was fired by Trump in May. Comey later testified followed Trump's request for loyalty and to go easy on Flynn and Trump said the "Russia thing" played a factor in his decision to let go of Comey.
Trump denies he asked Comey drop the Flynn investigation, but Comey's ouster served as the impetus for the special counsel to also look into possible obstruction of justice, the Washington Post reported during the summer.
Ackerman's suggestion about conspiracy came as he and MSNBC anchor Richard Lui and national security reporter Ken Dilanian were discussing the former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who was mentioned in a report Saturday from the New York Times about how he contributed to the triggering of the FBI’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Trump team and the Kremlin, which is now being led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
That report said Papadopoulos in May 2016 drunkenly admitted to an Australian diplomat the Russians had damaging information on Hillary Clinton, an admission that came weeks before WikiLeaks began publishing its tranche of hacked emails from Democratic members.
Emails reportedly show Papadopoulos angled to get Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet.
Ackerman said this has to be tied to Flynn, who pleaded guilty to one felony charge of lying to the FBI about his communications with the Russians during the transition period about sanctions on Russia imposed by the Obama administration.
He said this guilty plea indicates that his lie "somehow relates to the coordination between the campaign and the Russians during the campaign."
Ackerman said the "real question" is whether there was an offer to rescind the sanctions in exchange for the stolen emails. A declassified report from the intelligence community published in January stated a conclusion with "high confidence" that Putin authorized the meddling campaign on the 2016 election which included the hacking of Democratic officials and political figures.
While collusion is only a federal crime in the context of an antitrust issue, conspiracy could stands to be something else entirely.
Both former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his former associate, Rick Gates, were indicted by a federal grand jury on 12 counts, including conspiracy. They have pleaded not guilty and face a possible sentence of years in prison. Manafort might even soon face a fresh indictment.
Trump and people close to him have denied that they conspired with the Russians, and his team have downplayed Papadopoulos' role in the campaign as being nothing more than a "coffee boy," according to the Times.
Trump's lawyers say they expect a quick end to Mueller's probe despite the legal process awaiting Manafort and Gates and Flynn's cooperation with Mueller. There are also multiple Russia investigations being conducted on Capitol Hill.