On Tuesday morning July 11th, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted out images of an email exchange that showed he was contacted in June 2016 about a meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer. One of emails stated Trump would receive “some official documents and information that would incriminate” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It is illegal to solicit, accept or receive contributions and donations, which includes things of value such as opposition research, from foreign nationals.
The United States Intelligence Community has concluded with high confidence that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. A January 2017 assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) stated that Russian leadership preferred presidential candidate Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, and that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered an “influence campaign” to harm Clinton’s electoral chances and “undermine public faith in the US democratic process”.
Several investigations about Russian influence on the election have been underway: a counter-intelligence investigation by the FBI, hearings by the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, and inquiries about possible links and financial ties between the Kremlin and Trump associates, notably targeting Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Roger Stone and more. All the individuals involved as well as President Trump have consistently denied any collusion. The president has said that it is “fake news” and an excuse by the democrats for losing the election. Nevertheless, news concerning Russian involvement with the Trump campaign seems to break on a daily basis. The latest story concerns the president’s son Donald Trump Jr.
Late last week the New York Times broke a story that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met with someone they believed to be a “Russian government attorney” (Natalia Veselnitskaya) last summer. The email inviting Trump Jr. to the meeting explicitly stated that the attorney had “very high level and sensitive information” that would “incriminate” Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The email, from Publicist Rob Goldstone, claimed the information was part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. eagerly accepted the meeting and stated: “If it’s what you say I love it.”
Trump Jr. released the emails publicly on his Twitter account early Tuesday morning along with a statement. Trump Jr. denied any wrongdoing and claimed he received no credible information from the meeting. It was later revealed that Trump Jr. most likely released the emails himself because the New York Times told him that they were going to run a story which contained quotes from the email.
According to campaign finance laws 52 U.S. Code § 30121:
It shall be unlawful for
(1) a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make
Attorneys analyzing the matter seem to be focusing in on the section of the statute which states “a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value”. In this case, the “thing of value” is opposition research. Rick Hasen, an expert in campaign finance law, wrote on electionlawblog that it was “hard to see how there is not a serious case here of solicitation.”
“Trump Jr. appears to have knowledge of the foreign source and is asking to see it,” he added.
Paul S. Ryan, the vice president of Common Cause, said the emails show Trump Jr. “illegally soliciting a contribution from foreign nationals.” Common Cause filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department on Monday, asking them to investigate Trump Jr. for soliciting a foreign contribution.
Norm Eisen, the special counsel for ethics and government reform at the White House under former President Barack Obama, said the email from Trump Jr. “clearly violates campaign finance law and likely implicates Don Jr. and campaign under conspiracy statute.”
Alternatively, representatives for the White House have routinely dismissed the meeting as unimportant. Kellyanne Conway, known for her contentious interviews with the media, simply stated that nothing came from the meeting and it is therefore irrelevant. The president simply released a statement congratulating his son on his transparency. Nevertheless, Trump Jr. has hired Alan Futerfas, a criminal defense attorney based in New York City to represent him in matters related to the investigation into Russian interference.
There’s no doubt that the latest bombshell concerning Russian and the Trump campaign will not be the last.