After nearly nine months of a special counsel probe into President Trump's links to Russia, the press is still searching for a way to describe it, and in many cases, still appears to be learning on the fly what it's all about.
The press eagerly jumped into the fray last summer by saying special counsel Robert Mueller was looking for signs of "collusion" between Trump and Russia that might have helped him defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
The press moved away from that word in the fall, and started zeroing in on the idea that Trump might actually face obstruction of justice charges. That shift reflected a new but unsupported theory, based on a tweet from Trump, that the president may have known that former national security adviser Michael Flynn lied to the FBI, and that Trump may have obstructed justice by not revealing that lie.
But over the last week, the press has shifted once more, and has become enamored with a few new words that it thinks might get Trump in trouble. Writers and TV personalities are decidedly over the word "collusion" ever since Trump denied collusion repeatedly in a New York Times interview over the holiday break.
For example, MSNBC national security analyst Jeremy Bash said Tuesday he was vowing not to use the word "collusion" anymore, and said Trump might be in trouble even if he had an awareness of Russia's efforts to turn the election.
"I just want to make to make one New Year's resolution here with you ... which is, we're not going to use the word 'collusion,'" Bash said Tuesday. "We're not going to set the bar where the president is setting it, as there had to have been active, day-by-day work between the Trump campaign and the Russian Federation."
"No, I think the mere fact that the president knew of, and people in his campaign knew of and welcomed the Russian interference is unpatriotic, it's shameful, and it's enough to show a very bad set of facts for the Trump team going into his election," he said.
MSNBC national security analyst Jeremy Bash's New Years resolution: "not going to use the word 'collusion'"
watch his explanation w/ @NicolleDWallace pic.twitter.com/ziKK84frkF— Deadline White House (@DeadlineWH) January 2, 2018
Over on NBC, top reporters said "cooperation" between Trump and Russia might be the key.
"Cooperation without collusion is still cooperation," wrote NBC's Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann. They were citing reports saying Donald Trump Jr. was eager to see what dirt Russia might have had on Hillary Clinton, and that former aid George Papadopoulos was told that Russia had that information.
"And at the very least from the evidence above, it sure looks like they were cooperating with the Russians and their intermediaries," they wrote. "And from what we know, the Trump campaign never alerted the FBI about the interactions above."
Still others focused on the new idea that "collusion" was never the right word, and that "conspiracy" is what will eventually take down Trump.
That analysis seemed to come from a Saturday MSNBC interview with former Watergate prosecutor Nick Ackerman. He said Trump could be in trouble if his team helped or encouraged Russia to hack into Democratic emails, in return for some imagined quid pro quo that Trump would deliver once he became president.
“I think the big enchilada here is the conspiracy to break into the Democratic National Committee in violation of federal computer crimes law and to use those emails to help Donald Trump get elected,” Ackerman said.
Some picked up that idea on Monday and ran with it.
"One good thing about 2017 is we learned in detail of the collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia," wrote Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress. "The question before us now is criminal conspiracy."
One good thing about 2017 is we learned in detail of the collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The question before us now is criminal conspiracy.— Neera Tanden???????? (@neeratanden) January 1, 2018
Raw Story picked up Ackerman's line and wrote an article saying the question of Trump colluding with Russia "is now irrelevant."
And Scott Dworkin, an MSNBC contributor and founder of the anti-Trump Democratic Coalition, went so far as to say that anyone still using the word "collusion" against Trump — which the media and Democratic politicians did at the start of the probe — looks like a "moron."
"If you debate whether or not Trump colluded, you look like a moron & are using a Trump talking point," Dworkin wrote last week. "This isn't an antitrust case so he can't be charged with collusion."
"He CAN be charged — like Manafort & Gates — with conspiring against the US with Russia," he said. "Use the word conspiracy."
If you debate whether or not Trump colluded, you look like a moron & are using a Trump talking point. This isn’t an antitrust case so he can’t be charged with collusion. He CAN be charged-like Manafort & Gates-with conspiring against the US with Russia. Use the word conspiracy.— Scott Dworkin (@funder) December 27, 2017