Eli Lake writes: the Washington Post reported last week that a Clinton campaign lawyer, Marc Elias, paid the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to dig up dirt on Trump. Some of that information came from Russian officials speaking to a former British spy, Christopher Steele.
So, Trump supporters would seem justified in asking, why is it permissible for Russians to help Democrats and not permissible for Russians to help Republicans?
There are two answers here. The first is obvious. The Russians tried to sow chaos in the election by trolling both the left and the right on social media with fake news. But when Russian hackers distributed stolen emails on the internet, they came from only one party: the Democrats. If Mueller finds evidence that this was coordinated with Trump or his associates, it would be like finding out G. Gordon Liddy subcontracted the Watergate burglary to the KGB.
The other answer is more subtle. Adav Noti, who served as a Federal Election Commission lawyer between 2007 and 2017, told me that all of this goes back to the ban on contributions and donations from foreign governments or foreign nationals in federal elections. The law has been on the books since the 1970s, and he said it applies to promises of deleted emails and other kinds of opposition research.
“There is a real meaningful distinction,” said Noti, who is now senior director of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group that monitors election law. “The Clinton campaign, based on what has been reported, paid for opposition research, which included paying people to dig up dirt in foreign countries.” Unsavory? Perhaps. But not illegal.
Compare that to what we know about George Papadopoulos, a low-level Trump campaign foreign-policy adviser, who has pled guilty to lying to the FBI. The plea agreement, released Monday by Mueller, says Papadopoulos emailed a Russian professor and another Russian contact who promised to turn over Clinton’s emails free of charge.
Or consider the meeting in the summer of 2016 between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian nationals who reportedly offered to hand over dirt on Clinton. Noti said that if the Trump officials solicited the information, “the act itself was unlawful.”
Noti cannot be dismissed as a partisan. Last week, his law center filed a formal complaint with the FEC against the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee for filing misleading federal reports that hid the contract with Fusion GPS. [Continue reading…]