Collusion: The word at the heart of the Russia investigation

PHOTO: President Donald J. Trump attends a meeting on tax policy with business leaders in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, OCT. 31, 2017.PlayMichael Reynolds/EPA
WATCH Trump's attorney reacts to Russia investigation charges

Part of the debate surrounding what did or didn’t happen behind the scenes in the Trump presidential campaign stems from the vague nature of the word at the heart of the investigation: collusion.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly denied that there was any collusion between his campaign team and Russia during the election -- as recently as Monday morning when he tweeted “… Also, there is NO COLLUSION!” shortly after news broke of two former campaign officials being indicted and another pleading guilty to charges brought previously. The indicted parties -- ex-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates -- entered not guilty pleas.

But some of the findings over the past few months could fit into certain definitions of the word.

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, collusion is defined as a “secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose; acting in collusion with the enemy.”

The reason why the dictionary definition provides the clearest understanding of it is because collusion is not a legal term, according to one constitutional law scholar.

Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional law professor at the University of North Carolina, told ABC News that the vague nature of the term makes it confusing, which can be used to a political advantage.

“It’s not a technical word. It’s actually used in part to actually almost confuse people it’s either used in two different ways: to almost confuse people because there’s no federal statute or code that uses this word, and then I think the other way it’s used is maybe as a catch-all, an umbrella-like term that could encompass everything,” Gerhardt said.

Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow touched on the lack of legal meaning behind the word during an interview on “Good Morning America” today.

“Collusion in and of itself, there’s no crime of collusion,” Sekulow said.

Gerhardt said that making such a point is an example “demonstrating why they use the word collusion because if you look for it in a statute, you won’t find it.”

“One problem with using the word collusion is that it’s not used in any statute and therefore it’s not codified as a crime anywhere and that's why they use it,” Gerhardt said.

By contrast, Gerhardt said that if the word “conspiracy” was used instead, that would carry greater weight and threat of legal consequences because that is defined as a very specific type of crime.

Norm Eisen, former President Barack Obama’s White House counsel and ethics czar, has been a frequent critic of the Trump administration. He tweeted back in July that proof of collusion was evident in the emails that Donald Trump Jr. exchanged in arranging the controversial Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign.

“This is extraordinary: proof that collusion was offered, and accepted. Whether actual help/info flowed in 1st meeting or later, irrelevant,” he wrote in a tweet.

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