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Did Donald Trump Jr. Break the Law by Meeting with the Russians?

by Countable | 7.12.17

On Tuesday, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted images of emails he had with a Kremlin associate in hopes of receiving "very high level and sensitive information" that would damage Hillary Clinton and aid his father’s campaign. Trump Jr.’s confirmation of the motivations behind the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower has made onlookers wonder if he has actually admitted to breaking the law and colluding with Russia.

In a criminal sense, collusion applies to antitrust law and price fixing — when rival businesses coordinate their prices in a non-competitive way — so in this context the phrase is being used colloquially to imply improper coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. From a legal standpoint, numerous legal experts told Politico that there is no specific crime covering collusion, with national security attorneys Mark Zaid and Bradley Moss saying:

"There is no federal law that criminalizes collusion, in and of itself, between a political campaign and a foreign government. It’s highly unethical and inappropriate, but we do not believe Congress has ever chosen to specifically identify that legal term of art in a criminal statute in this context.”

However, not all experts agree with that assessment. Election law prohibits foreign governments from making contributions to U.S. political campaigns, and that goes beyond a simple cash donation to include "anything of value" in connection to the campaign.

Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel during the Obama administration argued in a post on Just Security that the hacked Podesta emails "which were then transmitted to WikiLeaks for posting, clearly had value, and its connection to the election is not disputed."

It’s not clear that courts would interpret a campaign accepting potentially helpful information from a foreign government as an in-kind contribution that violates campaign finance law.

However, some legal experts believe such coordination could violate other laws. For example, it’s also illegal to solicit contributions from foreign nationals, and that’s illegal whether or not the contribution (in this case non-existent opposition research) is actually delivered.

While there’s debate surrounding the criminal liability (or lack thereof) in this case, the political liability for the Trump administration is clear — they’re spending another news cycle fighting the narrative of Russian collusion instead of advancing their agenda.

Tell your reps what you think of Donald Trump Jr.’s admission about his meeting with a Russian lawyer using the Take Action button.

— Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore) / Creative Commons)

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