The Left has predictably gone apoplectic over the email thread showing Donald Trump Jr. knowingly accepted a meeting with a Russian government attorney for dirt on Hillary Clinton. There have been cries that Trump Jr. broke the law and even suggestions that he may have committed treason.
There’s no getting around the fact that what Trump, Jr. did was wrong, but it certainly was not illegal. Here are five reasons why.
1. It’s not a crime to hear about damaging information on a political opponent, even if it’s from a foreign government. Left-wing attorney Jonathan Turley notes that to consider such an action a crime would raise “major free speech and association issues.”
2. It’s not clear that Trump Jr. actually received any noteworthy information on Clinton from the Russian government attorney. As of now, it appears that the attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, spent the meeting lobbying for a repeal of the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law leveling sanctions against 18 Russians over possible involvement in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, who died under mysterious circumstances after he uncovered a wide Russian tax fraud scheme. Veselnitskaya herself happens to one of the targeted individuals in the law, so there is certainly reason to believe that she spent the meeting discussing the law, which is still in place. It’s hard to see how this is a crime, if this what occurred.
3. The meeting doesn’t seem to be related to the hacking and leaking of emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.
In other words, there has to be some sort of established connection that the Trump team was involved in the Russians hacking emails from the DNC and Podesta in order for criminality to be assumed. There is nothing so far in the Trump Jr.-Veselnitskaya meeting to suggest this.
4. Some are suggesting that Trump Jr. may have violated a campaign finance law with this meeting. He didn’t. Rachel Stockman at Law Newz wrote a piece titled “Could This Obscure 1990 FEC Opinion Prove That Trump Jr. Committed a Crime? It Just Might.” The campaign finance law cited states that it’s illegal to solicit “anything of value” from a foreign national; Stockman then cited a Federal Election Commission (FEC) opinion stating a candidate’s friend paying for polling for the campaign counted as “an in-kind contribution” to the campaign.
“What if the purported information did have value, and was paid for by the Russians — say if they paid for hacked emails?” wrote Stockman. “Well, we will never know because the Russian attorney claims she was never in possession of any of it.”
There are two problems with this: one, it’s based on an opinion from a government agency, rather from a court; only the latter would have serious legal implications. Two, it doesn’t seem likely that a court would agree with Stockman’s logic, as Turley argues that it would mean that a “wide array of meetings by politicians and their aides with foreign nationals would suddenly become possible criminal violations”:
Consider the implications of such an unprecedented extension of the criminal code. The sharing of information — even possible criminal conduct by a leading political figure — would be treated the same as accepting cash. It would constitute a major threat to free speech, the free press and the right of association. It would also expose a broad spectrum of political speech to possible criminal prosecution.
Executive branch officials could then investigate campaigns on any meetings where information or tips might have originated from a foreign source. Such an expansion would likely hit challengers the hardest, since sitting presidents not only control the Justice Department but the government has a myriad of back channels in communicating with foreign officials.
5. If what Trump Jr. did was illegal, then so was Hillary Clinton allies working the Ukrainian government for anti-Trump research.
McLaughlin is correct — Trump Jr.’s actions were worse, since he met with someone affiliated with the Russian government, but as a legal matter both fall under the same purview. This is what’s known as intellectual honesty, which seems to be lacking in today’s politics.