A day after President Donald Trump declared via tweet—one that could prove potentially devastating to his claims of innocence—that a 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between his eldest son Donald Trump Jr., other high-level members of his campaign, and Russians claiming to have dirt on Hillary Clinton was "totally legal," actual law experts on Monday are making the rounds to argue that this is fanciful thinking coming from the president.
"Trump is making Mueller's case for him." —Daniel Hemel, assistant law professor, University of Chicago"President Trump is wrong on the law," declared Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause, in a memo issued to reporters and the public.
"And he should know he's wrong on the law," Ryan continued, "because his White House Counsel, Don McGahn, is former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission and most certainly knows it's illegal to solicit political contributions from foreign nationals. McGahn was counsel to the Trump campaign at the time of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting."
According to Ryan's memo:
On Sunday, July 9, 2017, the New York Times broke the story that in June 2016 Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, then-campaign chair Paul J. Manafort and others met with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer to obtain damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
On July 10, 2017, Common Cause filed complaints with the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission alleging reason to believe that Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump presidential campaign committee violated the federal campaign finance law prohibition on soliciting a “contribution” from a foreign national, found at 52 U.S.C. § 30121(a)(2) and 11 C.F.R. § 110.20(g). “Contribution” is defined at 52 U.S.C. § 30101(8)(A)(i) as “any gift . . . of money or anything of value … for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office.” Opposition research is a valuable commodity regularly bought and sold in politics.
As Common Dreams has previously reported, one of the most striking things about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting is the number of lies unleashed by Trump and those around him about what it was about, what was said in the meeting, who knew about it and when, who crafted the press statement when the meeting first came to light, and why any of the obfuscation that followed was necessary.
If it's totally legal and done all the time, why did your then comms director Hope Hicks say: "There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.” https://t.co/ghgFAYDy7O
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) August 5, 2018
Trump's tweet on Sunday was apparently inspired by reporting by several news outlets on Saturday that the president was concerned that his eldest son may have gotten himself in trouble by making false statements to the FBI or under oath with congressional lawmakers. But as Greg Sargent explains in a new piece for the Washington Post:
Publicly, at least, Trump is denying that he believes his son is in legal jeopardy. In his tweet, he claimed that this report is "a complete fabrication," adding that the meeting was "totally legal and done all the time in politics."
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But the actions of Trump himself — and of his lawyers — cast doubt on this claim, and this points to a huge hole in the current spin that Team Trump is attempting. It’s this: Trump and his lawyers keep claiming there was nothing wrong with this meeting — but they keep lying about it.
The fact that Trump helped dictate the statement falsifying the meeting's rationale is only the most glaring example of this. Additionally, Trump’s lawyers argued in their recent memo to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III that this Trump statement about the meeting was "short, but accurate." (We knew that was a lie, but now Trump himself has now essentially admitted to it.)
After Sunday's explicit admission by Trump on Sunday that the meeting was about gathering dirt on Clinton from a group of foreign nationals, Ryan at Common Cause was not the only one saying this could prove perilous for the Donald Jr. and the president as well.
Trump offered his clearest acknowledgment that Don Jr. met with a Kremlin-aligned lawyer to “get information” on Clinton. Mueller is investigating whether anyone associated with Trump coordinated with the Russians, which could result in criminal charges. https://t.co/ymVzmTWjSl
— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) August 6, 2018
"It was possible, just days ago, to believe—with an abundance of generosity toward the President and his team—that the meeting was about adoption, went nowhere, and was overblown by the Administration’s enemies," New Yorker staff writer Adam Davidson opined in the wake of Trump's tweet on Sunday. "No longer. The open questions are now far more narrow: Was this a case of successful or only attempted collusion? Is attempted collusion a crime? What legal and moral responsibilities did the President and his team have when they realized that the proposed collusion was under way when the D.N.C. e-mails were leaked and published? And, crucially, what did the President know before the election, after it, and when he instructed his son to lie?"
Conspiring with a foreign power to get dirt on an opponent in US elections is a violation of campaign finance laws.
This tweet by @realDonaldTrump also shows he lied when he drafted the statement about the meeting. It wasn't about Russian adoptions.#SundayMorning Thoughts https://t.co/Dp5RYbxYDT
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) August 5, 2018
Speaking with the Post, Daniel Hemel, an assistant law professor at the University of Chicago who recently co-published this scholarly paper on presidential obstruction of justice, put it this way: "Trump is making Mueller's case for him."
And Rick Hasen, professor of law and political science at the University of California at Irvine, explained to WBUR in Boston that, "It's illegal to ask for a contribution from a foreign government or a foreign entity or a foreign person, whether they're donating dollars to the campaign or donating something of value, which could include opposition research. And so that's the question."
And Ryan from Common Cause concluded, "When all is said and done, team Trump’s solicitation of a political contribution from Russians—in the form of opposition research on Clinton—may prove to be just one strand in a larger web of illegal activities by team Trump. Perhaps Paul Manafort or his associates will reveal more details about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting as Manafort’s trial continues this week. Perhaps this is what's driving President Trump to proclaim his son's innocence via Twitter."