white house press briefing indictments reaction sot_00000000.jpg
white house press briefing indictments reaction sot_00000000.jpg
Now playing
01:38
WH: Indictments have nothing to do with the President
Now playing
02:34
Was Kavanaugh picked to block Mueller probe?
Raskin & Raskin
Now playing
02:45
Trump lawyers quietly driving talks with Mueller
Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, listens during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, U.S. Supreme Court associate justice nominee for U.S. President Donald Trump, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. If confirmed, Kavanaugh would fortify the high court's conservative majority, and spotlight the rightward march of the federal judiciary under Trump and the GOP-controlled Senate. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bloomberg/Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, listens during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, U.S. Supreme Court associate justice nominee for U.S. President Donald Trump, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. If confirmed, Kavanaugh would fortify the high court's conservative majority, and spotlight the rightward march of the federal judiciary under Trump and the GOP-controlled Senate. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Now playing
01:02
The man who oversees Mueller's investigation
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trumps personal lawyer walks down Park Avenue in New York June 15, 2018 after leaving his hotel. - President Donald Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen has indicated that he is willing to cooperate with federal investigators to alleviate the pressure on himself and his family. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)        (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trumps personal lawyer walks down Park Avenue in New York June 15, 2018 after leaving his hotel. - President Donald Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen has indicated that he is willing to cooperate with federal investigators to alleviate the pressure on himself and his family. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:06
ABC: Cohen has done interviews with Mueller
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein delivers remarks on "Justice Department Views on Corporate Accountability" during the The Annual Conference for Compliance and Risk Professionals at the Mayflower Hotel May 21, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein delivers remarks on "Justice Department Views on Corporate Accountability" during the The Annual Conference for Compliance and Risk Professionals at the Mayflower Hotel May 21, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Now playing
05:41
Rosenstein: 12 Russians charged with hacking
CNN
Now playing
00:48
Trump: I believe Manafort will tell the truth at plea deal
Trump interview with NBC's Lester Holt. May 11 2017
NBC
Trump interview with NBC's Lester Holt. May 11 2017
Now playing
01:12
Sekulow: NBC edited Trump interview on Comey
CNN
Now playing
02:04
Starr: Mueller is getting closer to the truth
NBC
Now playing
01:30
Giuliani: Truth isn't truth
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15: Don McGahn, general counsel for the Trump transition team, gets into an elevator in the lobby at Trump Tower, November 15, 2016 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump is in the process of choosing his presidential cabinet as he transitions from a candidate to the president-elect. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Drew Angerer/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15: Don McGahn, general counsel for the Trump transition team, gets into an elevator in the lobby at Trump Tower, November 15, 2016 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump is in the process of choosing his presidential cabinet as he transitions from a candidate to the president-elect. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Now playing
03:27
Trump attacks NYT report in morning tweet
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 9: Don McGahn, lawyer for Donald Trump and his campaign, leaves the Four Seasons Hotel after a meeting with Trump and Republican donors, June 9, 2016 in New York City.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 9: Don McGahn, lawyer for Donald Trump and his campaign, leaves the Four Seasons Hotel after a meeting with Trump and Republican donors, June 9, 2016 in New York City.
Now playing
02:27
NYT: WH counsel cooperating with Mueller probe
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21:  Special counsel Robert Mueller (2nd L) leaves after a closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee June 21, 2017 at the Capitol in Washington, DC. The committee meets with Mueller to discuss the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: Special counsel Robert Mueller (2nd L) leaves after a closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee June 21, 2017 at the Capitol in Washington, DC. The committee meets with Mueller to discuss the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:07
The Mueller investigation: Who could be next?
Now playing
02:20
Davis describes facing Mueller grand jury
CNN
Now playing
01:36
Analyst: Giuliani doing great harm to Trump
CNN
Now playing
02:00
Roger Stone: I'll never testify against Trump
(CNN) —  

On Monday, surrounded on all sides by news of indictments and a guilty plea, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders made a very bold claim.

“There’s clear evidence of the Clinton campaign colluding with Russian intelligence to spread disinformation and smear the President to influence the election,” Sanders said.

[Record scratch]

There is? That’s a huge story!

But – spoiler alert! – there actually isn’t “clear evidence” of collusion between Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Russian government. So what is Sanders talking about, and how close is she to the actual facts?

At issue is the news – first reported last week by The Washington Post – that a lawyer for the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee was using campaign dollars to pay Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm. Fusion GPS was, in turn, using that money to fund the construction of a dossier filled with anti-Trump information by former British spy Christopher Steele.

Steele got his information – some of it very salacious, most of it much more mundane – from interviews with Russian sources who are not named in the dossier. (Worth noting: Some of the claims made by Steele in the dossier – including that the Russian government engaged in a systematic attempt to influence the 2016 election to benefit Trump and hurt Clinton – have been separately corroborated by US intelligence services. Some of the more salacious allegations have not.)

So, here’s how Sanders’ logic – I think – works: Clinton campaign $ –→ Fusion GPS –→ Steele –→ “Russian officials” = collusion.

Or to expand slightly: The Clinton campaign funded the Steele dossier. And Steele talked to Russian sources to gain information about Trump. Hence, collusion.

The problem with that logic is that a) it’s very, very tenuous and b) it doesn’t come close to fitting the legal definition of “collusion.”

Here’s the definition of collusion: “1. a secret agreement, especially for fraudulent or treacherous purposes; conspiracy: 2. Law. secret understanding between two or more persons to gain something illegally, to defraud another of his or her rights, or to appear as adversaries though in agreement.”

That’s not what appears to be going on here. Even if you buy Sanders’ dicey connection between the Clinton campaign paying for Fusion GPS’ services which in turn paid for the Steele dossier which included conversations with Russians, it’s not clear that there was an effort to “gain something illegally” or “defraud another of his or her rights.”

All of which exposes, in blunt terms, what Sanders is doing here. She is trying to throw attention somewhere – anywhere – but on the guilty plea of former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and the 12-count indictment of former top Trump aides Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. Which is part and parcel of the political spin all administrations engage in when trying to bury a bad story.

But just because Sanders says it doesn’t mean you have to believe it. And in this case, the facts simply don’t bear out the claim she is making.