Donald Trump junior’s meeting with Russian lawyer might have violated US election law

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New York: Donald Trump junior’s meeting with a woman he was told was a Russian government lawyer who had incriminating information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton that could help his father’s presidential campaign could lead investigators to probe whether he violated US election law, experts said.

Trump junior met the woman, lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, on 9 June, 2016, after an email exchange with an intermediary.

The emails, tweeted by Trump junior on Tuesday, could provide material for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

In one of the emails dated 3 June, 2016, Trump junior wrote: “If it’s what you say I love it.” He released the emails after the New York Times said it planned to write about their contents and sought his comment. Trump junior said in his tweets that nothing came of the meeting. Veselnitskaya told NBC News early on Tuesday she was not affiliated with the Russian government and had passed no information.

File image of Donald Trump junior. AP

File image of Donald Trump junior. AP

“In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently,” Trump junior said in an interview on Fox News. “For me, this was opposition research.”

Collusion itself is not an actual crime under the US criminal code, so prosecutors would look to see if Trump junior’s conduct ran afoul of a specific law, legal experts said. Moscow has denied interference in the US election, and President Donald Trump has said his campaign did not collude with Russia.

Alan Futerfas, Trump junior’s lawyer, did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment.

Federal Election Campaign Act

One law that might come into play is the Federal Election Campaign Act, which makes it illegal for a foreign national to contribute to a US political campaign. The campaign is also prohibited from soliciting such contributions. A contribution does not have to be monetary in nature, according to Paul S Ryan, an attorney with watchdog group Common Cause. He said incriminating information about Clinton could be considered a contribution under the act.

Ryan said Trump junior’s “enthusiastic response” to the offer for information and particularly his proposal in his email to have a follow-up call the next week constituted “solicitation.” “That to me is an indication, a concession by Donald Trump junior that he wants and is requesting this information,” Ryan said.

Joshua Douglas, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, said Trump junior’s emails made it “more plausible” that there could be a criminal case against him. James Gardner, an election law expert at the University of Buffalo Law School, said the election law was intended to target donations of cash or goods and services.

He said he did not believe Trump junior would have violated the law if he solicited damaging information about Clinton.

A federal law known as the general conspiracy statute that makes it illegal to conspire to commit a crime against or defraud the United States could also come into play if, for example, Trump junior tried to help Russians hack into US computer networks. There was no indication that Trump junior did such a thing.

Andrew Wright, a professor at Savannah Law School who was associate counsel in the White House Counsel’s Office under former Democratic President Barack Obama, said he thought Trump junior’s agreeing to meet with someone to discuss an illegal act would be enough to trigger a conspiracy charge.

“It’s a very powerful tool,” he said.

Published Date: Jul 12, 2017 10:35 am | Updated Date: Jul 12, 2017 10:35 am