Monday night on MSNBC, the "Hardball" team argued the only possible explanation for the 2016 election is collusion with Russia, comparing President Donald Trump to former President Richard Nixon and even the Revolutionary War traitor Benedict Arnold.
After an extended discussion speculating about Russian influence on the Trump administration, veteran anchor Chris Matthews argued it was "hard to imagine" that Trump’s campaign hadn’t colluded with Russia, even though special counsel Robert Mueller may not find proof.
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"What will happen if they get away with this? That was my Watergate question way back when," he said. "What if Nixon and those people all got away with it, what kind of a government would we have at this point?"
National security commentator Malcolm Nance said he has faith in Mueller, but he suggested that if there is no proof Trump directly colluded with Russia, he should be treated as a traitor anyway. He used George Washington’s retribution for Benedict Arnold’s treason as the model to follow.
Let me just say one thing: When Benedict Arnold gave the plans to West Point, to [British Major John André], and they captured Major André, they didn't have any real information linking those plans to Benedict Arnold other than the fact that he was in his presence at one point during that day, but everyone knew it was treason when they caught the man [André] and they hung him. So, at some point there's going to be a bridge of data here that is going to be unassailable.
Nance concluded only a naif could believe the connections between Trump and Russia are coincidences.
"If Donald Trump through a series of coincidences knew nothing about the myriad of activities that was going around him that started way back in 2012 and now ended up with multiple activities and indictments around him, then I've got a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn," he said.
"I guess our political question is now, are we as tough as George Washington?" Matthews asked New York Times reporter Ken Vogel.
"Well, I mean, no," Vogel replied, sounding less sanguine about the likelihood of Mueller uncovering evidence of all this. "It will be a big question about whether the Mueller report ever sees the light of day."
"There is the potential that the most sweeping narrative of this—that really lays out what other guests here suspect is already true—will never actually become charges against either Trump or Trump associates. That's a possibility," Vogel concluded. "Then it will be left to Congress."
Contrary to the panelists’ conclusion that collusion is the only logical explanation, Trump’s policies toward Russia have not been uniformly friendly. Trump has followed other post-Cold War presidents by starting his presidency seeking more friendly relations with Russia, but his administration has still levied sanctions against individuals and companies in key sectors such as energy.
"When you actually look at the substance of what this administration has done, not the rhetoric but the substance, this administration has been much tougher on Russia than any in the post-Cold War era," Daniel Vajdich, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told NPR last year.
Various other mainstream outlets have similarly reported that Trump’s record is not uniformly friendly toward Russia.