New facts in the potential criminal case of Trump campaign coordination with Russia

Bob Bauer writes: A Russian lawyer [Natalia Veselnitskaya] with ties to state owned enterprises and to a senior government official met with Trump campaign officials shortly in June of 2016, shortly after the nomination was decided. Donald Trump, Jr., the campaign manager Paul Manafort and the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner all attended the meeting. With Manafort’s presence in particular the connection to the campaign is clear.

The significance of this extraordinary meeting, now confirmed by Donald Trump, Jr. lies in the reason why the campaign agreed to it. According to a statement from Donald Jr., there was on the campaign’s part an “expectation” that the Russians would have negative information to offer about Hillary Clinton. The result, so Trump Jr. now claims, was disappointing: “It quickly became clear that she [the Russia lawyer] had no meaningful information.” He now dismisses her claim to have had this material as mere “pretext” for the meeting. The President’s son is admitting that the campaign arranged the meeting solely to get this information.

Trump Jr. suggests that he did not know of the Russian connection: he did not know the identity of the individual offering the information, including the fact that she was a foreign national. And he would have it believed that when he invited Kushner and Manafort to join the meeting, he did not tell them, because he did not know, that the lawyer was a Russian–or who she was. And, apparently, when she came in and introduced herself, the Trump campaign team was still uninformed about her identity and did not ask about it. Suffice it to say that this is a strange account and investigators will probe it deeply. And if there is any truth to it, it is not clear how much it helps Trump Jr. and his colleagues: one explanation for their ignorance of whom they were dealing with is “willful blindness,” which is not helpful to their legal position.

This new and remarkable information adds considerably to the potential criminal violation of the federal law that prohibits “substantial assistance” to foreign nationals seeking to influence a federal election. Now we have, as part of the public record, specific and private actions to establish intent to provide this assistance. Donald Trump can’t very well sustain his position that in calling for the Russians to find the missing email, he was merely joking. His campaign was furthering behind closed doors the objective that the candidate was “jokingly” professing. If confirmed and further developed in the Mueller investigation, these facts also bolster the campaign’s exposure to “aiding and abetting” liability for a campaign finance violation.

There are two additional grounds for that criminal liability: the campaign’s “coordination” with Russian foreign national sources, as a result of which it received an illegal contribution, and its “solicitation” of this illegal contribution, each of which independently violate the law.

A charge of illegal coordination is consistent with a conspiracy, aiding or abetting, or “substantial assistance” source of liability. It is the campaign finance law equivalent to what has been referred to in the public debate as “collusion.” In other words coordination is a legally prohibited form of collusion: spending by Russia, if coordinated with the campaign, is a contribution to the campaign. The contribution, of course, would be illegal. It is important to underscore here that this area of law applies to any and all coordinated spending beneficial to the campaign, not only to coordination with Russians, the Russian government, or other foreign nationals (think: Wikileaks). [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, has hired New York lawyer Alan Futerfas to represent him in connection with Russia-related investigations, the lawyer and Trump Jr.’s office said on Monday.

Futerfas, a sole practitioner who specializes in criminal defense, would not say when he was retained or whether he had any input into the statements Trump Jr. made over the weekend about a meeting with a Russian lawyer.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email