The Law That Donald Trump Jr. May Have Broken

By - July 12, 2017
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Media reports this week claim that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian attorney in June 2016 with the purpose of obtaining information from the government in Russia that supposedly contained negative facts about Hillary Clinton. Some experts on the matter argue that Trump Jr. may have engaged in a type of public corruption, and may have solicited an illegal campaign contribution.

According to the New York Times, Trump Jr. confirmed the story this week when he released the emails between him and the British publicist Robert Goldstone who set up the meeting. The emails, experts claim, shows that Trump Jr. was told before the meeting that the information he would be receiving would be from the Russian government.

Goldstone stated in the emails that the information on Clinton was ‘very high level and sensitive information’, but it was Russia’s general support for Trump. Trump Jr. then replied that if the information was what Goldstone claimed that the younger Trump ‘loves it.’

Trump Jr. already had admitted in a public statement that he decided to take the meeting with the Russian lawyer – a woman named Natalia Veselnitskaya – to obtain information on Hillary Clinton that could be useful for the campaign.

He stated that the defense for going to the meeting was that it was not a fruitful event and the woman had no information of any use. In other words, Trump Jr. was saying that the meeting was not actually collusion between the campaign and Russia because the female contact did not have any good information.

However, experts on national security and US elections say that this defense is not really a defense at all. According to Ryan Goodman, a former Department of Defense special counsel, the email text shows evidence that Trump Jr. participated in a scheme to involve the Russians in interference in the US election. He states that this type of interference is against federal law.

A law professor from Cornell University named Jens D. Ohlin claims that Trump Jr. has essentially admitted to a criminal conspiracy. She adds that Trump’s decision to go to the meeting probably violated campaign finance laws. Those laws do not require you to obtain anything of use from foreigners. So, the fact that the younger Trump requested information from a person from Russia about Clinton could be a serious federal crime.

Experts state that the federal states that no one may knowingly accept or solicit from a foreign party any contribution of any kind of value to a campaign. Some experts believe that there is a clear case that Trump Jr. has met the elements of the law, which can be criminally enforced according to statute.

The Statute That Trump Jr. May Have Broken

The federal statute that Trump may have violated is 52 USC 30121, 36 USC 510. This is the federal law related to foreign contributions to campaigns in the United States. The vital passage of this law is as follows:

‘A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make a contribution or a donation of money or other thing of value, or expressly or impliedly promise to make a contribution or a donation, in connection with any Federal, State, or local election.’

Experts say that the important phrase is ‘other thing of value.’ It means that the law involves things other than simple cash donations. Foreigners also may not provide any other type of contribution that would be equal to a monetary contribution to a campaign. This would include any service or information provided other than goods. This could include information that the Russian government collected about Clinton.

Nick Akerman, an assistant special prosecutor during the Watergate investigation, stated that if you are using a foreign country’s resources to run your American political campaign, this is defined as an illegal campaign contribution.

Another important part of the federal statute is as follows: “No person shall knowingly solicit, accept, or receive from a foreign national any contribution or donation prohibited by [this law].”

The important word that could trip up Trump Jr. is ‘solicit.’ Some legal experts contend that Trump was trying to solicit information that he was well aware was coming from a foreign national. Political campaigns always pay big money to do opposition research. It seems like damaging information on Hillary Clinton could be construed as something of value to Trump’s campaign.

The part about possible solicitation is why it is irrelevant, experts in the matter claim, about whether Trump Jr. actually got any information of value. The part of the matter that is against the law is trying to get information on Clinton from a foreign national and not whether it was acquired or not.

Trump Jr. Still Could Be Tough to Convict

To actually make a federal criminal charge such as corruption stick against the younger Trump, experts say that the prosecutor would have to prove that Trump knew that the person he was talking to on emails was a foreign national. Trump Jr. stated this week on news talk shows that he did not know the woman’s name before they met. So he implied that he did not know where she was from.

It also is unclear if it can be shown that Trump Jr. solicited a bribe, which is a common element of many public corruption cases.

Political Corruption Policed Carefully by the Feds

When a person is in a position of trust in the federal government, it is very important for him or her to never abuse the public trust. Whether that person is an actual elected official, an appointed official, or a friend or relative of one, it is critical that that party never engage in any form of political corruption.

Public corruption encompasses many different white collar crimes that involve breaching public trust, as well as abuse of power by duly elected or appointed public officials. Corruption can easily take place when the corrupt person either is soliciting a bribe or takes one.

Corruption charges that occur at the federal level are taken very seriously by federal agents.

Federal corruption laws outlaw any government official from soliciting, accepting or agreeing to receive an item of value in return for changing their public duties in any way. It is not clear if Trump Jr. made such promises at this time. But it is clear that he is in a gray area regarding soliciting something of value from a foreign national. If it can be shown that he was aware that the party providing information on Clinton was a foreigner, he could be in real legal trouble.