Donald Trump Jr. just released a controversial email chain regarding his meeting with a Russian lawyer who offered to provide him with detrimental information about Hillary Clinton. The Hillary Clinton piece is almost irrelevant. What matters is that a foreign national offered Trump Jr. to help his father in the American elections.
At first, Trump Jr. denied knowing that the Russian lawyer had ties to the Russian government. Nonetheless, the emails he just released show – as clearly as it could possibly be – that he knew very well Ms. Veselnitskaya was acting on behalf of the Kremlin. “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but it’s part of Russia and it’s government support for Mr. Trump,” the emails said.
By releasing these emails, Trump Jr. just admitted violating a federal campaign finance law. There is a specific statute that prohibits foreign nationals from making, directly or indirectly, “a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value” in connection with an election in the U.S. This law also makes it illegal for a person to “solicit, accept, or receive” such contribution from a foreign national. The definition of solicitation in the law states that it can be a direct or indirect solicitation. Hence, by merely attending the meeting, Trump Jr. indirectly and illegally solicited such contribution from a Russian national.
It is not debatable anymore whether Trump Jr. knew that the Russian lawyer was in fact Russian. The question is what kind of lawyer would recommend Trump’s eldest son to release such emails and basically admit violating federal law. Either way, the only question left to answer by a court at this point would be whether the information that was promised is a “thing of value,” as defined in the law above. It does not matter if the information was actually valuable or not, but having a foreigner promising to offer valuable information is enough. This is a factual question that would have to be determined by a court.
There is little doubt at this point that Trump Jr. – along with Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner – violated this law. I am confident that Mueller’s investigation will take care of this issue. In the meantime we can only wonder whether President Trump knew about the meeting. If he was a part of this, then he also violated federal law. At that point, it would be hard for Congress to explain why they are not making sure the President respects the same laws he is supposed to be executing.