Skip to comments.The Russia connections may yet bring Trump down. But right now critics are crying wolf.
Posted on 07/17/2017 11:34:15 AM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet
Some of the responses to the news that Donald Trump Jr. met with a slew of Russians seem a tad unhinged. We should reject the outlandish claim that the meeting borders on treason, as former White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter put it. Moreover, it is far from evident that the meeting even violates campaign finance laws, as a number of legal scholars have asserted.
But we should also dismiss those who argue that the meeting is such a nothing (in the words of Trump Jr.). We can do so because that runs counter to months of insistent denial that there was any connection between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. It now seems clear that several members of that campaign were willing to make a connection.
Moreover, depending on how deep the Trump campaigns connections with Russia turn out to be, its conceivable we will begin to hear serious as opposed to silly talk of impeachment. But we are not there yet.
We can dismiss the charge of treason quickly. The Constitution supplies a careful definition of that odious crime, one designed to make it more difficult to charge someone with the offense: Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.
Trump Jr. has not taken up arms against the United States, and, despite the uproar over Putins electoral interference, we are not at war with Russia. Hence Trump Jr., even if he is somehow assisting Russia, cannot be giving aid and comfort to an enemy. Asserting that Trumps actions border on treason is akin to insisting that the United States borders on Myanmar.
Theres less to the argument about an illegal campaign contribution than meets the eye
Because the first claim rests largely on overheated rhetoric, the second, that Trump Jr. violated federal election laws, appears reasonable, at least by comparison. Under federal law, foreign governments cannot contribute to American election campaigns. Moreover, it is a crime for Americans to ask for (solicit) a contribution from foreign governments. By saying that he would love information about an allegation that individuals tied to Russia had funded the Democratic National Committee and were supporting Hillary Clinton, Trump Jr. is said to have solicited that illegal foreign contribution. Ironically, under this view, trying to uncover supposed illegal contributions by ones political opponent can itself generate an illegal contribution.
The claim turns on a series of arguments, each of which is problematic and some of which are rather dubious, at least by my lights. (In this, I agree with the comments of my colleague Eugene Volokh, of the University of California Los Angeles and the Volokh Conspiracy blog.) For Trump Jr. to be convicted of a crime, he would have had to knowingly and willfully solicit a contribution from the Russian government with a contribution being defined under the law as a gift ... or anything of value.
Obviously, if Trump Jr. had written to the Russian government requesting a campaign gift, he would have solicited a donation. If he knew this act was forbidden, then he could be sent to jail. But what apparently occurred at least from what we know so far is quite removed from this scenario.
Some are claiming that supplying any useful information to a campaign counts under the law as something of value. To be sure, there are specific administrative rules that signal that sharing polling data with a campaign can constitute a contribution. And there is a Federal Election Commission ruling saying that supplying a candidate with a list of influential activists is a contribution. But to my knowledge, neither a court nor the FEC has ever said that any useful information conveyed to a campaign is, absent an exemption, a contribution, whatever its source.
There are good reasons for the absence of such a ruling. Reading anything of value to cover any useful information raises a host of troublesome issues. Campaigns routinely vacuum up information about opponents. They get tips, firsthand accounts, and scurrilous rumors. Is each one of these to be logged, appraised for value, and reported as a contribution? Moreover, candidates receive advice from veteran politicians about how to run the campaign. Is the sage advice of Barack Obama to a presidential nominee, urging the latter to focus on certain states or precincts, a campaign contribution?
Reporters are even known to share gossip with politicians. Have they made a contribution to those candidates with whom they share chinwag and a drink? If giving valuable gossip or information to a candidate is a contribution, our campaigns are currently awash in campaign finance violations. I daresay that Sen. Hillary Clintons campaign received tips, information, and innuendo from various quarters.
There is a volunteer services exception from the definition of contribution. Perhaps many of those supplying information and advice to a campaign gratis should be considered volunteers. But the exemption for volunteer services applies no less to foreigners. They too can volunteer in a campaign, as the SEC itself admits. If the volunteer exemption permits Obama to freely dispense extremely valuable advice or gossip to a candidate, it apparently permits Vladimir Putin or Theresa May to dispense valuable advice.
The exemption for volunteer services does not cover those who receive payment for their service. So if Barack Obama is being paid by some corporation to curry favor with a candidate and, in the process, dispenses valuable advice, that would be a contribution. So too would be a reporter who trades valuable gossip with a candidate, for she is being paid by her employer and thus apparently cannot claim the volunteer services exception.
If all information offered to a campaign counted as a contribution, election law would be transformed.
The larger point is that those who regard the passing of all valuable information as a potential contribution are advancing a position that would radically rework how campaigns are conducted and would severely restrict the flow of information to campaigns. In a sense, they are calling for a transformational change in practices and conceptions, all because of Trump Jr.s meeting with a Russian attorney. Maybe they are right to push for this change. But it can hardly be said that existing federal election law makes clear that supplying gossip or advice is a contribution even from representatives of a foreign government.
Lets assume, however, that the giving of valuable information can constitute a contribution. What of solicit? By statute, solicitation is defined as any communication that [in context] contains a clear message asking, requesting, or recommending that another person make a contribution (emphasis added). Does Trump Jr.s statement, in response to an offer of incriminating information about Sen. Clinton and the DNC, that he would love such information, count as a clear message requesting a contribution?
I dont see it. If a salesman comes to my door and asks if I would like to buy a vacuum, and I say, Id love to, I dont believe I have solicited the salesman. In this case, the Russian lawyer came to Trump Jr., not the other way around. She wanted to give him information. He said, in effect, Sure!
The question of intent
Finally, criminal violations of the federal election rules must be knowing and willful. In 2007, the Department of Justice observed that this phrase requires an offender who knew what the [election] law forbade and violated it notwithstanding that knowledge. Now, Trump Jr. likely thought that the Russian government was involved in the meeting, and he hoped his interlocutors would supply damaging information. But does anyone think that Trump Jr., when he leaped at the chance to meet with what he thought was an attorney working for the Russian government, knew that he was violating the law? Of course not. The legal arguments that treat proffered information as a campaign donation are quite complex, and it seems farfetched to think Trump Jr. would have foreseen them.
The greater difficulty for Trump Jr. and, more importantly, his father has always been political. Having repeatedly and vehemently denied contacts with the Russian government, it is embarrassing that the son, son-in-law, and campaign manager of President Trump attended a meeting to acquire damaging information about Hillary Clinton from a supposed Russian government lawyer.
Labeling this collusion is unhelpful because this is not a legal concept. (Its a bit like debating whether someone is a friend or an acquaintance.) Nonetheless, the more the Trump campaign is seen as working closely with the Russian government or as willing to do so, the worse will be its reputation. At the extreme, as I have suggested, the unearthing of extremely damaging facts about Trumps contacts with the Russian government could prompt discussion of impeachment.
We are in the first quarter of a four-quarter game. Both the executive and the legislative branches are investigating. Their work will take time to complete. People must be patient. Yet Trump Sr.s die-hard opponents insist on inflating every one of his perceived misbehaviors. His detractors bellow that he has violated the Constitutions emoluments clause, that his campaign took illegal contributions, that he is a puppet of Vladimir Putin. And, oh, yes, he is a traitor to boot. The failure to distinguish what might be significant from the trivial or inconsequential will cause many Americans to throw up their hands and tune out.
When commentators strain and stretch and repeatedly trumpet that there is another smoking gun of criminal liability or constitutional violation, they lose credibility. Those pining for the political destruction of Donald Trump run the risk that the villagers will not come running if and when a wolf finally appears.
‘Vox’ says it all.
Whatever you do, don’t read it.
Its way worse than you think. They smuggled uranium in return for millions, millions of dollars I’m telling you.
The democrats never gave a Rat’s patootey when Ted kennedy was a Russian agent. (He really was. More than money, it was idealogy)
I always love it when people from India or Pakistan or some other backwards hole criticize our politicians. This clown is probably freshfrom throwing his widowed grandmother on the funeral pyre.
Good luck with the “in kind” strained legal theory, Mr. Prakash.
Maybe in India that would wash.
Would not make it past even Mueller’s office in the real world. Because as Dershowitz already pointed out, information is not a donation.
If it was, the Clinton’s would be finishing up their second decade in the slammer about now.
You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.
General Sir Charles James Napier
I find it offensive that the networks import people from those crap holes to put on TV and tell us how screwed up we are. It is not like we have a shortage of American born liberal idiots to man those shows.
(Moreover, depending on how deep the Trump campaigns connections with Russia turn out to be, its conceivable we will begin to hear serious as opposed to silly talk of impeachment. But we are not there yet.)
AND do you know what jerk wad (author of this article) WE will NEVER be there with President Trump...
WE might get there with Obama, as his dear legacy is being destroyed day after day after day, but NEVER will WE be there with Our President Trump!!!
Locked and Loaded!!!
The left is going to make one critical error that will
finally expose them for what they are......and even their most rabid supporters won’t be able to save them
Article is total nonsense.
Actually, I didn’t.
Founded by Ezra Klein, not much can I expect except liberal bias.
Of course it is, but it offers insight into the fevered imagination of the Left.
Yep, ComDem Insanity.
The translator and mueller have a previous connection through the FBI. This will be Interesting
Beware of currying favor with those who favor curry.
That is far fetched right there.
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