It's kind of strange, Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, was opining the other day: Why would the Russians "need the Trump campaign to know … how to hack?"
Aren't they experts at it themselves, he asked? If they wanted to get e-mails from the Democrats' inner sanctum to pass on to WikiLeaks, couldn't they do it themselves?
Mr. Schlapp was pointing to one of just several arguments Republicans are deploying to support President Donald Trump's claim that the story of Russian collusion with the Trump team is, in the President's words, a "witch hunt," or to be even more categorical, "a total hoax."
Funny thing, Mr. Schlapp added, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been investigating possible Trump team complicity with the help of the Central Intelligence Agency since last summer and in terms of proof, well, they have none. What criminal laws have been violated? All they've come up with, he said, is suspicion.
Not only Republicans say that. So do Democrats. A party big foot, Senator Dianne Feinstein, was asked if she had evidence of collusion. Her answer? "Not at this time."
There were talks by numerous Trump team members with the Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak. One such contact – that of former national security adviser Michael Flynn – led to Mr. Flynn's resignation. In respect to meetings held by other team members, nothing nefarious has yet to be revealed.
But if there's nothing to the story, why would Mr. Trump be so concerned that, as reported, he asked then-FBI director James Comey to back off on the Flynn line of inquiry? Further, Mr. Trump's firing of Mr. Comey becomes even more problematic, the day before hosting Russians at the White House. It becomes harder to play angel's advocate for Mr. Trump on the Russian collusion story on this one. It clearly has the look of his having something to hide. In the case of Mr. Flynn, there very well could be and Republicans need hope it is an isolated case.
For his part, Mr. Trump, no surprise, denies the Comey version of their meeting. And, say defenders, at least he did not go the Richard Nixon route and try to block a special inquiry from being launched. The highly respected former FBI director Bob Mueller has been named to lead one.
While some of the denials from the Republican side are clearly a stretch, given all the Trump team contacts and given some reportedly murky financial dealings with the Russians Mr. Trump has had going way back, they can't be summarily dismissed. When on the trail of a big scandal, the media can get a little overheated in their pursuit.
The New York Times reports this week that American spies gathered intelligence showing that Russian spooks identified a couple of Trump associates, Paul Manafort and Mr. Flynn, as having indirect ties to Russian officials. The Russian agents determined these men could be of help to Kremlin plans to impact Mr. Trump's relations with Russia.
As a matter of course, Russian and U.S. intelligence agencies, going back decades, try to target officials in one another's governments. John Brennan, former CIA director under Barack Obama and seen by Republicans as being in the Democrats' corner, confirmed this week that there was indeed Russian interference in the election. But, as he put it, there still were "unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons, involved in the campaign or not, to work on their behalf either in a witting or unwitting fashion."
Wittingly or maybe unwittingly, it's another caveat to throw into a story that's already full of them.
There's so much that isn't known. There is the possibility that the President's associates did collude in unlawful ways with the Russians but that Mr. Trump, wittingly or unwittingly, was unaware of it. Democrats' dreams of impeachment could drown on that count.
The probe by Mr. Mueller will hopefully sort it all out. The story could be real. It could be a witch hunt. For now, it's a half-baked cake.